Knots of a Woman (PoemTalk #145)

Tonya Foster, 'A Swarm of Bees in High Court'

Tonya Foster

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Stephanie Burt, Bonnie Costello, Anna Strong Safford, and Al Filreis met up at the Woodberry Poetry Room in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to record a special episode of PoemTalk about Tonya Foster’s A Swarm of Bees in High Court. A section of that book, published in 2015 by Belladonna*, is a sequence of haiku pairs. The group focused on five pairs — those on pages 38, 39, 42, 46, and 50. The haikus on page 50 form the final entries in a long part of the book titled “In / Somniloquies.” Tonya Foster made a special recording of these poems just for use in this PoemTalk episode; they will also be added to her PennSound page.

Davy Knittle with Rodney Koeneke

PennSound podcast #69

Photo of Davy Knittle (left) by Kelly Writers House staff; photo of Rodney Koeneke (right) by Anna Daedalus.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

In September 2018 Davy Knittle hosted poet Rodney Koeneke in the Wexler Studio to discuss his book, Body & Glass (Wave Books, 2018). Their conversation touches on Koeneke’s writing process and use of pronouns as a “distancing technique,” the role of poetry — particularly experimental forms — in America today, and how joy might emerge from work about loss. In the podcast, the two also examine the traditions that poetry assembles for itself, drawing comparisons between modernists like Joyce and contemporary poets. Koeneke recorded readings for PennSound as well. 

Ídolos among us

The innovative aesthetics of contemporary US Latinx poets

Yo busco nuestra gente en las luces brillosas de un Google Search. Encuentro luminaries like Julia Álvarez, Isabel Allende, y Esmeralda Santiago. Más chingonxs surface on the screen: García Márquez, Neruda. But as I keep scrolling, it dawns on me that almost all are either fiction authors or from the Latin American continent. Their works are written in a language most of us learned orally from our parents, that we stumbled through in parties and visiting relatives. 

Ni de aquí, ni de allá: The US Latinx poet as overlooked

Transfer and estrangement

Gail Scott in conversation with Jane Malcolm

Photos of Gail Scott (left) and Jane Malcolm (right) courtesy of the authors.

Note: The following conversation unfolded over a couple of warm, sunny months in Montreal. I was inspired to interview Gail on the occasion of her recent retirement from the Université de Montréal, where she taught creative writing for fourteen years and was a cherished colleague and mentor to me and many others.

Note: The following conversation unfolded over a couple of warm, sunny months in Montreal. I was inspired to interview Gail on the occasion of her recent retirement from the Université de Montréal, where she taught creative writing for fourteen years and was a cherished colleague and mentor to me and many others. One night, over a lovely dinner, Gail and I began talking about her dual role as Montreal writer and experimental novelist and about the many life experiences that accompanied her engagements with Quebec feminism, New Narrative, and Language poetry.

Gelatin poetics

On Rachael Allen's 'Kingdomland' and the meatspace of contemporary feminist lyric

(Left) Rachael Allen’s Kingdomland; (right) Ventricle, oil-on-canvas by Maria Sledmere.

In Rachael Allen’s Kingdomland, shades of indigo and lilac leak through the pages like milk, in variant continuums of strangeness and shame. There is, however, a kind of “tint” to these poems that evokes not quite the Kristevan abjection of skin on milk, but something more like the translucent surface of a jelly left to slowly rot. 

Everything about you’s a bit like me —
in the same way that North Carolina’s a bit like Ribena
but rhymes with Vagina, which is nearly the same,
but much darker —
brutal and sweet like disease,
sweet as an asphalt dealer.
— Selima Hill, A Little Book of Meat[1]

The scholar's blush

Shame as method in 'Lyric Shame'

Photo by Anthony Easton, via <a href= https://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkmoose/26
Photo by Anthony Easton, via flickr.

Lyric Shame (2014), a method-driven reappraisal of the mid- to late-twentieth-century “lyric” poem, looks to readers’ shame as an interpretive device. Shame: that blushing state that finds us thinking of what others must be thinking and/or self-caught in the act of wanting something (something others do not think we should be wanting); an awareness of exposure or of being seen by others; a social signpost; a readable heat.

'mend the world'

A review of Joseph Lease's 'The Body Ghost'

Photo of Joseph Lease (left) by Donna de la Perrière.

The dying father is speaking of his own mother — when he squeezes the hand of his living son, he is squeezing the hand of his own dead mother. The two living bodies are not alone. His son thinks to himself, “his mother / in the / room — / his mother’s / me —” (68). The son is himself, and the son is someone else. The son remains himself while his father transforms him into his grandmother.

A father is at the end of his life. He is dying, and his son is in the room with him as he dies. In the elegy “Stay,” the father holds his son’s hand and says:

“when I 

squeeze 

your

hand I’m

squeezing her

hand”[1]

The dead and the living

Hugh Seidman’s late poems

Photo of Seidman courtesy of Spuyten Duyvil/Dispatches Editions.

In old age, many a poet ought to think twice before putting that last book together for public consumption. Easy enough to say — often the late work, when the poet had once published truly compelling, arguably great poetry, disappoints. I was in conversation with an elderly poet recently, someone who’s now in the eighth decade of life (as am I). We found we were harboring the same fear — we didn’t want to be repeating ourselves. We pictured rereading our late work and not seeing enough in it to warrant sharing it with the public. 

In old age, many a poet ought to think twice before putting that last book together for public consumption. Easy enough to say — often the late work, when the poet had once published truly compelling, arguably great poetry, disappoints. I was in conversation with an elderly poet recently, someone who’s now in the eighth decade of life (as am I). We found we were harboring the same fear — we didn’t want to be repeating ourselves. We pictured rereading our late work and not seeing enough in it to warrant sharing it with the public.

Spelling for humanity

A review of 'Spells,' edited by Sarah Shin and Rebecca Tamás

Image by Soraya Gilanni.
Image by Soraya Gilanni.

The purpose of Spells is made clear in many ways, from the chant-like lyrical prose introduction “The Broken Open” by So Mayer to the subtitle: “21st-Century Occult Poetry.” This is a book of poetry that does magic, that believes in the magic of word-casting and spell-ing. Spells introduces a variety of ways to spell in poems from a diverse cast of poets who echo the ideas of precursors like Ursula K. LeGuin: by naming something, magic is done and change is created.

Language work is a making and remaking of the world around us, a casting of spells: “To be a witch, then, is to know words.”[1Spells, an anthology edited by Sarah Shin and Rebecca Tamás, attempts to show the magical side of poetry and “the moment before the word, when everything inside you is broken open” (ix).