The Virginia Project

Poet and writer Tina Barry recently curated a collaborative art and written word show titled “The Virginia Project” that held its debut in High Falls, New York. The project centers around Marc Chagall’s partner, Virginia Haggard, and their daughter, Jean McNeil, who lived in High Falls for two years. Tina discovered they had lived within blocks of her home when she moved to High Falls herself in 2015. Intrigued, she began researching the story of how they came to live there and the relationships between Chagall, Haggard, and McNeil.  What Tina learned inspired her original poetry and, subsequently, to collaborate with visual artists to create The Virginia Project. Artists who participated include Leslie Bender, Barbara Danin, Jenny Lee Fowler, Jaime Caul, Trish Classe Cianakis, Wendy Hollender, Heige Kim, Ingrid Keppler Lisowski, Kate McGloughlin, Giselle Potter, Adie Russell, Amy Talluto, Anique Sara Taylor, and Lori van Houten. The exhibit debuted at The Wired Gallery in High Falls October 27, 2018, and will open at the galleries in Long Island University the week of January 21, 2019.

MHR’s Charlotte Hamrick recently spoke to Tina about the project.

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How did you discover the story of Chagall and Haggard in High Falls?

 

In 2014, when my husband and I bought a house in the hamlet of High Falls, NY, I started doing some research about the town and learned that Marc Chagall had lived there from 1946-1948. There was a lot of information about Chagall, but very little about his partner Virginia Haggard, and Haggard’s five-year-old daughter Jean McNeil. I did some digging and found that Haggard, who was 30 years younger than Chagall, was much more than the “maid” or “mistress” she was often referred to in writing about the couple.

 

Haggard, the daughter of an English diplomat, was an unconventional, outspoken woman, who was passionate about art. She was well-educated, spoke several languages, and was an aspiring artist. She married a man her parents despised, and wouldn’t take their financial assistance when her husband’s mental health declined.

She went to work for Chagall as a housekeeper to bring in some money. She was never his mistress. Chagall’s wife died shortly before he met Haggard. I wanted to give Haggard and McNeil voices in their history with Chagall, so the women tell their stories. I now have 60 poems and prose poems, flash and letters. 15 of the pieces appeared in The Virginia Project.

Detail of Lori van Houten’s piece, “White Flannel” white flannel

 

 Was it difficult to find information about Virginia and her accomplishments?

 

Haggard is sometimes mentioned in articles and books about Chagall; in some accounts, she’s left out completely. Journalists and historians seem to have had little interest in Haggard, besides looking pretty in photos, and that she was the mother of Chagall’s only son David.

 

As I researched, I discovered Haggard’s memoir My Life With Chagall: Seven Years of Plenty With the Master as Told by the Woman Who Shared Them. I use a few of the anecdotes and characters as jumping off points, but my work in this series is fiction; most of the writing is imagined.

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Why did you decide to focus your poetry on the mother-daughter relationship instead of Chagall and Haggards?

 

Well, the mother-daughter relationship is important to the story. As a child, Jean McNeil had no agency. She watched her father’s mental health decline, was witness to the budding love affair between Chagall and Haggard, and then folded into this new family unit. It was a tough, unsettling time for McNeil, and Chagall was focused on Haggard, not this sensitive child who didn’t have a say in what came next. But, the writing in the series is as much about the adults’ relationship as it is about the mother and daughter.

 

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How many artists participated and what are some of the mediums they used?

 

Finding, meeting and collaborating with the artists was one of the great joys of the project. I chose 14 women artists whose work resonated with me. For The Virginia Project, each of the artists interpreted a different piece of writing. I wanted a mix of styles and mediums, so my words and Haggard’s and McNeil’s lives were looked at and expressed from different angles. A few of the artists work conceptually. Two are illustrators. I have two artists who create cut-paper pieces. A few landscape painters. The artists use paint, clay, wasp nests, fabric, paper, oils and acrylics, photos. I had an idea of what their interpretations would look like, yet I was surprised again and again by what they created. It’s been exhilarating.

Tina graciously provided an example of her poetry and the corresponding cut-paper artwork by Jenny Lee Fowler, below.

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Shadow Pictures

Dad used to hold his hands up and make shadow pictures on the wall   He did a rabbit and a dog   Now he only holds his hands up so we don’t see him crying   Dad sits on his chair and rocks like it is a rocking chair but it is not a rocking chair   It goes skritch  skritch   skritch  skritch  Dad is a baby now   Sometimes I ask him  Will you take me to the park  No sound comes out but his lips move like mine did when he was teaching me words   Dad would point and say tree  Then I would say tree  Then he would point and say squirrel   Then I would say squirrel

 

 

 


tina barry
Tina Barry

Tina Barry is a former artist and textile designer. Her writing has appeared in several anthologies including The Best Short Fiction 2016 (Queens Ferry Press), Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (Lost Horse Press, 2018), and Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology (World Split Open Press, 2018). Her poetry and short fiction can be found in numerous literary magazines including Drunken Boat, Connotation Press, and Blue Fifth Notebook. Tina has two Pushcart Prize nominations and several Best of the Net nods. Tina is the author of Mall Flower: Poems and Short Fiction (Big Table Publishing, 2016). She is a teaching artist at The Poetry Barn and Gemini Ink. The Virginia Project is her first effort at curating and her first collaboration.

Then Freedom: Melinda Palacio’s “Bird Forgiveness”

bird forgiveness

Then Freedom: Melinda Palacio’s Bird Forgiveness

3: A Taos Press, 2018

Reviewed by Tyler Robert Sheldon

 

Melinda Palacio’s new work Bird Forgiveness is a testament to living with great care, both personal and global. The collection, which is circular in its structure (opening with a bird and closing with a moment of flight), is certainly deeply personal, but it is also highly ecocritical in its talk of what we are doing to the environment around us—and how we can hope to preserve or even improve it, via our place therein. Palacio’s book opens with a prescient tercet epigraph: “If birds were larger than we are, / how would the world arrange itself, / who would woman this garden?” Here the idea of stewardship is immediately evoked, as is the need for respecting the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.

 

In “Caged Bird Cries,” the opening poem, we meet Lola, and this white cockatoo is very much like us in a few notable ways. Though she “lives in a cage that looks like a house with a picket fence,” she is a jealous bird: “admire [the smaller birds’] colors, win Lola’s bird / wrath. She raises hell, her yellow crown, and cries, “Look at me, look at Lola, me, Lola.” This bird speaks in Spanish and in expletives, reminding us that while we are not alone, we should set a good example for other animals that may end up too much like us.

All the same, we are also shaped by a subjective world that we in turn bend to our liking. “Of Cork and Feathers” shows the defenses people put up around themselves: “She named her home the bird house / but kept no birds.” This label is symbolic—a metaphor—as the poem explains. “The motif of cork and feathers meant / more than flying away, flitting from city to city, / taking up residence in warmer climes.” This unnamed character explores the world, maintaining a small space of constancy to return to, to ward against the altering winter outside. This understandable impulse is common for many people and sheds light on our need to preserve a part of the world for ourselves.

Later in the collection, “Year of the Rooster” reveals an irreconcilable difference sprouted from differing cultures. The narrator’s husband’s family enjoys robin soup, something the narrator cannot accept for herself. The poem’s ending lines sum up this difficulty with gracious elegance: “A beautiful jumble of Chinese and Mexican never had a chance / to be, to exist, to refuse a bowl of hot soup, still life with robin.” Here the robin is a microcosm, a metonym for the world: it is not be consumed, but to be nurtured, and to do less is anathema to the narrator’s perspective. Still later, in “Nothing Up Her Sleeves,” a magician’s assistant learns the art of making a canary disappear, eventually getting it right most of the time—and she learns that she doesn’t even need Max, her partner, to make a name for herself. We discover this toward the poem’s end:

When the audience applauds,
she realizes she never needed . . .
his towering shadow; she
leaves his worn size nine shoes
at the last train station.

Even though this poem evinces a different sort of separation for radically different reasons, the root cause is somewhat related to “Rooster” in that, eventually, perhaps we are sometimes too alike in our experiences—mastery through extremes, whether they be culinary or magical. To preserve ourselves within the world, these two poems seem to suggest, we must embrace these without compromise.

Still later in Bird Forgiveness, “Sea of Love Revisited” provides an excellent lens through which to view our world. Toward the poem’s end, the narrator (in the water practicing yoga) is reminded of just how wise our feathered companions truly are: “When angry words prevail because the pitch rings louder / and not truer, I recall the wisdom of birds,” she muses. “I leave a trail of breadcrumbs / for any who dare hear the tremolo of my voice unhinged.” Reciprocating in this way—both thanking the birds for their wisdom, their forgiveness, as well as leading them to her—is a fitting action for a narrator who seems so in harmony with them. As Palacio points out, the world is full of interconnection, and to preserve it and help it grow, we must respect and cherish all who live within it. And when it is time to go, Palacio’s narrator hopes, may it be as lovely and noble as the life that precedes that time. “When She Calls” provides as beautiful an image as could be striven for: “Death bright as lemon meringue pie and quickly gone / into a happy belly is what I wish for you,” she affirms. Life in the world and what comes after, as interconnected as this book’s iridescent poems, are more exquisite than we might dare to hope. In Bird Forgiveness, that life and that world spread their wings to welcome us.

Readers can purchase Bird Forgiveness at one of Palacio’s many readings or from 3: A Taos Press, as well as from regional and national booksellers.

 

melinda

I Show Up–A Poet’s Life Feature

I Show Up

By Karla Linn Merrifield

 

Show up, show up, I remind myself, a constant mantra.

 

That’s my number-one priority as a poet. I show up with pen and journal in hand…at my laptop keyboard…with an ear tuned to a turn of phrase during dinner conversation, newscasts, my tour guide’s explanation of tide pool biota…and with an eye out for a significant detail on the horizon of misted mountains or by my feet on a rainforest trail. I show up, in the present, attentive to the moment, open to the potential for a word or an image to reveal a path toward a poem. I show up; imagination takes over.

 

In this poet’s life, the whereness of showing up frequently takes on great significance as I have long been a “vagabond poet” as my blog readers know. I’ve tripped over poems in Antarctica (The Ice Decides, Finishing Line Press); I’ve netted them on the Amazon River (Attaining Canopy, FootHills Publishing). By way of example, here’s the title poem for the former book:

 

The Ice Decides

 

The ice decides
where I can go.
The ice divides
life from death,
safe passage from abyss.
But it is the light
on the ice that defines
beauty, terror, silence,
the blue awe of Antarctica.

 

Show up, poems happen. One rare day Sheshat, the Egyptian goddess of writing spoke to me on the site where Percy Bysshe Shelley once stood and where he began to conceive “Ozymandias”— “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;/ Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!/ Nothing beside remains.” That place, his poem, urged me on. I took my turn to write.

 

And, today as I write this I’m floating on a small ship anchored in British Columbia, Canada, offshore of SGang Gwaay (formerly Anthony Island) on the exposed southwest coast of Gwaii Haanas (Queen Charlotte Islands), a native World Heritage Site, a sacred site of weathered totem poles, ones upright yet and ones fallen. I show up where the Haida population was decimated by epidemics introduced when Europeans make contact with them in the 1800s. Each house post, mortuary pole, and longhouse beam ravaged by time and tide seemed to hold a poem in its cedar heart. I showed up, stood before them, began to write.

 

 

After Kay Llnagaay

 

There are no fools
……………among totem poles
…………………….trickster raven assuredly
supernatural beings—monsters—
……………glance up………scan down
…………………….atop the full capricious moon
mounting cedar
…………..rooted on Earth
……………………..centering shine on sea shine
owl…….orca
…………beaver…….bear
………………….otter…….fox
and Foam Woman
…………..many-breasted
///////////////////////feeding imagination
here…. eever 
…………….t
o all carvers
…………………….of holy totems

 

If you are a fellow poet reading this, you probably know you need not travel farther afield then your own breakfast table to show up, to find your poem’s genesis as Billy Collins did in “Cheerios.” He showed up in a Chicago restaurant and found his poem when “a bar of sunlight illuminated my orange juice.”

 

And, if you are a reader of poetry, you need only open a book, turn a page, and we will sweep you away to where—and how and why—we showed up to imagine the exotic and the quotidian alike. I promise.

 

 

KLM Author Photo 2, Athabaskan Fractal

Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee, and National Park Artist-in-Residence, has had 700+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 13 books to her credit, the newest of which is Psyche’s Scroll, a book-length poem, published by The Poetry Box Select in June 2018. Forthcoming in June 2019 is her full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North, from Cirque Press. Her Godwit:  Poems of Canada (FootHills Publishing) received the Eiseman Award for Poetry. She is assistant editor and poetry book reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye. She is a member of Just Poets (Rochester, NY), the Florida State Poetry Society, the New Mexico Poetry Society, and The Author’s Guild. Visit her blog, Vagabond Poet Redux, at http://karlalinn.blogspot.com. Google her name to learn more; Tweet @LinnMerrifiel; https://www.facebook.com/karlalinn.merrifield.

 

 

Informing the Past: Allison Joseph’s “Confessions of a Barefaced Woman”

9781597096096_FC59f376982ce95 (1)

Informing the Past: Allison Joseph’s Confessions of a Barefaced Woman


Reviewed by Tyler Robert Sheldon
Allison Joseph’s new collection Confessions of a Barefaced Woman is a forthright and unabashed examination of the speaker’s personal lives. From past girlhood to her present as an assured and confident woman, this narrator troubles the idea that self-reflection should—or even can—be nostalgic. Impulses here layer upon one another, with later poems informing ones earlier in the collection just as our futures often inform our pasts; a highly aware melding of form and content. The collection opens with the young speaker on a subway, discovering across the aisle how life treats less fortunate individuals: “it isn’t funny on the number six train / when I look up from my chem book, see a man / across the aisle both clothed and exposed, / his pants held up by rope, dirt clumped in his matted hair” (“On the Subway”). The narrator’s careful noting of detail is mirrored by the poem’s attention to sound, with the plosive hints of “up” and “rope” dancing in the background. Such meticulousness is a hallmark of this book and of the characters within, and when the speaker departs the train several stops too early to walk home, that unfortunate detail is noticed immediately.

We learn more in “In the Public Library,” our first glimpse into the speaker’s interests—and her passion for reading. Some details are worth overlooking to escape into books, the narrator confides, such as the library entrance “reeking of piss, booze, its pavement / giving way.” Even when the books are just as frayed, they are so because of other readers who imbue them with their awe and adoration. In the miniature city of writing, the speaker “lean[s] on words and love[s] / all this—broken bindings, smudged print, / fondled pages, my library card.” Sometimes the richness of inner worlds is more than enough. Confessions shows this idea in “Bad Dogs” too, where the narrator must run past yards laced with these growling creatures, “coming home from school, book bag / bouncing on my shoulder, socks / sagging around skinny ankles.” The bookbag is an important detail here, emphasizing what she values most. When a dog bites her arm, the speaker envisions it as a writer would, “one sudden fist of a dog” that results in stitches. Visceral detail is often key to telegraphing emotion, and Joseph’s speaker gives this dog a signifier that for many would inspire fear.

As she grows older, the speaker treats objects with both reverence and resentment, showing the struggle that comes with finding one’s adulthood. “Grown-Up Shoes” epitomizes this conflict, where she buys a pair of dress shoes to feel adult. “How eagerly I’d awaited / your coming,” she remembers, these wondrous shoes meant to emphasize “legs and calves / to make the other girls go home.” Alas, they are not as advertised: they hurt her feet, and “what looked sexy / in photos made my legs / into stalks, feet into boats.” The passage into adulthood does much the same to all of us, and for a while, we too might sit, “toes jammed together, / barely peeking from the hole / at the tip of each sorry shoe.” The lines in this poem are short and narrow, no doubt like these shoes, and thus the poem moves quickly another form-and-content pairing.\

In “Advice on Being a Pesky Little Sister,” the speaker shows that reverence for signifiers of age doesn’t always extend to other people’s property. She advises wryly (or regretfully?), “Sit on your sister’s records, / especially if she’s saved for them / for weeks, shattering favorites first.” Whether from jealousy or the simply working out of siblinghood (familiar to many), she likes to “[f]ilch and crease / her magazines, ones she buys, / hoards away—Cosmo and Glamour.” Fairly innocent in the larger scheme, these actions get attention, all that’s needed when even the wrong kind is enough.

Less wholesome is behavior exhibited by the speaker’s father, who yells at her and at her sister over meals; “Dinner Hour” shows a man who has no time for tenderness. While eating, he would drive home what a “waste we were, how we never / turned off lights when we left / a room, and did we think he / was made of money/” Even when the mother intervenes, it’s clear that the damage has already been done: they will never be able to satisfy this patriarch. This poem is constructed in ten careful quatrains, which is not only aesthetically pleasing but may also double (for the speaker) as a buffer against wild emotions, a single layer of insulation against a chaotic father.

Joseph works with form throughout this collection, notably in “Adolescent Confession,” a sestina that moves so naturally the form is hard to detect when the poem is read aloud. The ending words of each stanza, rearranging throughout, are always vital, and fluidity is never sacrificed for the sake of the form. In the first stanza we learn of a captivating insecurity:

When I was a girl,
I had such bony legs—
a flat body, no breasts.
To compensate, to cheat—
I stuffed my bra, hoping to be hot.
What a pathetic sight.

The struggle undergone by the narrator eventually resolves into adulthood, where she is satisfied with her lot at last: she has matured. But throughout the poem, her overarching worries of inadequacy will be familiar to many readers, regardless of sex or gender. This poem and others humanize the speaker, and as in many other poems, we can see ourselves reflected clearly.

The poem “Some of My Best Friends Are White People” inverts the more common defensive expression, and shows the confidence the speaker has in herself and her choices. She notes, “The audience assumed that my husband had to be black, / because I’m black, and clearly proud to be so . . . / The assumptions go on and on.” Joseph, who is married to the skilled editor and fellow poet Jon Tribble, has surely experienced questioning looks firsthand—but she, like her narrator, rightfully knows both happiness and confidence. As the speaker points out wisely, “monitoring the toll of racism [is] too big a job for just one race.” She is admirably stronger than many other narrators in the world.

In “After Shaving My Head, I Begin to Think Beauty Is Overrated,” the speaker is daring and admirable for defying expectations, but jubilant as well: her scalp is “able now / to pick up frequencies of cold it’s never felt before. With growing older comes both maturity and playfulness, each one an essential part of being a balanced person, and the narrator shows this through her shaven head. Her reasons, simpler than what others assume (“to be able to glide hands over scalp with / nothing impeding the motion”), are not enough for everyone else: “Surely this gesture means something.” Joseph shows that intentionally or otherwise, the personal is always political, and doing what one likes in the face of that fact makes one all the stronger. This poem, a series of enjambed couplets, is also playful in form when contrasted to the book’s other pieces: no other poem is structured this way, making this one stand out in all the right ways. Readers are also given segments of situations here—work, home, classroom—that are brief and quick, just like these short stanzas.

“A History of African-American Hair” is related to that rebellious poem, celebrating the process of styling hair and the labor that goes into doing so. Like “After Shaving…,” this poem is in couplets, a listing of the “knots, snags, / tangles . . . // goopy gels, / greasy lotions, pressing oils and pomades” that the speaker has faced in the past. Joseph’s narrator, in the end, is “glad as any woman can be / that I cut my hair, that the woman in the mirror // now has hair she can touch, / cropped close to scalp, to skin.” Happiness comes with experience, Joseph asserts: it is a fine-tuning of the self into the resonant present.

Toward the end of Confessions, Joseph reflects on what it means to be a poet: the expectations, cliché’s, norms, and behaviors that come along for the ride with that label. In “Daughter, Mother, Sister, Wife,” she muses on each in turn: “When your daughter is a poet, burn all your possessions before you die.” Poets, who have a propensity for turning every day into the studied and sometimes the near-sublime, can be are sharpest critics. The speaker continues, “Burn all / your correspondence; but be warned, / she’ll make something of the cinders.” The inverse is just as unique, as Joseph notes: “When your mother is a poet, / your breakfast may be marmalade . . . / You may not get fed at all.” In these lines, so whimsical and wry on the surface, a deeper discontent—even regret—begins to emerge. The hinted past, delineated here, isn’t all goodness or nostalgia. The hard moments of the narrator’s life make that life both complicated and fascinating, wholly absorbing our attention with each page. In Confessions of a Barefaced Woman, growing up is a medley of complex emotions, each informing the next moment where, when there is darkness, we can glean a little light.

Readers can purchase Confessions of a Barefaced Woman at one of Joseph’s many readings or from Red Hen Press, as well as from regional and national booksellers.

Confessions of a Barefaced Woman (Red Hen Press, 2018)

 


Allison Joseph lives in Carbondale, Illinois, where she is Professor of English and  Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University.  She serves as poetry editor of Crab Orchard Review.  Her books and chapbooks include What Keeps Us Here(Ampersand Press), Soul Train (Carnegie Mellon University Press), In Every Seam(University of Pittsburgh Press), Worldly Pleasures (Word Tech Communications), Imitation of Life (Carnegie Mellon UP), Voice: Poems (Mayapple Press), My Father’s Kites (Steel Toe Books), Trace Particles (Backbone Press), Little Epiphanies (NightBallet Press), Mercurial(Mayapple Press), Mortal Rewards (White Violet Press), Multitudes (Word Poetry), The Purpose of Hands (Glass Lyre Press), Double Identity (Singing Bone Press) Corporal Muse(Sibling Rivalry Press, forthcoming) and What Once You Loved (Barefoot Muse Press). Her most recent full-length collection, Confessions of a Barefaced Woman was published by Red Hen Press in June 2018. She is the literary partner and wife of poet and editor Jon Tribble. http://www.allisonjosephpoetry.com/


Tyler

Tyler Robert Sheldon is Associate Reviewer and a contributing writer for MockingHeart Review. His newest books are Driving Together (Meadowlark Books, 2018) and Consolation Prize (Finishing Line Press, 2018). He received the 2016 Charles E. Walton Essay Award and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in The Los Angeles ReviewThe Midwest Quarterly, Pleiades, QuiddityThe Dead Mule School of Southern LiteratureTinderbox Poetry Journal, and other venues. Sheldon holds an MA in English from Emporia State University and is an MFA candidate at McNeese State University. He lives in Baton Rouge.