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”

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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.

 

Year 3. Thank You.

Dear MHR aficionados and aficionadesses, 

It’s been such a deep pleasure to do the work for MockingHeart Review. Just sublime. 153 poets. All worthy. All of the poems struck me as deeply meaningful and well-crafted.  It’s not just a one-woman operation. It’s a collaboration of our poet-contributors and readers, too.

MockingHeart Review loves you. Love us back with a donation, if you can, to help defray costs. We have a new LOVE BUTTON on the sidebar if you feel so inclined to show your appreciation to keep the flow going.  Like our Facebook page, too. 

Really, thank you for this, and for devoting yourselves to and supporting the vital work of poetry.

~Clare L. Martin
Founder, Editor of MHR

P.S. Here’s a full list of our Contributors so far– asterisks for those who have appeared more than once.

MockingHeart Review Poets:
Candelin Wahl
Meggie Royer
Kristin Berger
M. Stone
Karla Linn Merrifield*
Sarah Dickenson Snyder
Judith Skillman
Martin Willitts Jr
Tyler Robert Sheldon*
Howard Faerstein
Jeffrey Zable*
O Mayeux
Anne Leigh Parrish
Cliff Saunders
Connie Post
Jordan Sanderson
Jennifer Martelli
John Warner Smith*
Zofia Provizer
Jack Bedell, Featured Poet
Ellis Victoria
Jon Tribble
Megan Burns
Allison Joseph
Devon Balwit*
Carolyn Gregory
Tom Montag*
Brittney Corrigan
Sarah Bigham
Lynne Burnett
Robert Okaji*
tanner menard
Alec Solomita*
Karen Craigo
Claire Donohue Roof
Michelle Reale*
Jeremy Hight
Featured Poet: T.M. De Vos
January Pearson
BD Feil
Stephen Frech
Roy Beckemeyer
Kelli Allen*
Stella Nesanovich*
Catherine Arra*
Michael Dwayne Smith
Anne Elezabeth Pluto*
Kayla King
Jim Zola
C. Wade Bentley
Jared Pearce
Margarita Serafimova
Gary Beck
Beate Sigriddaughter
Featured Poet: Debra Bailey*
Paul Ilechko
David Spicer
Ronda Broatch
Beth Copeland
Ace Boggess
Ira F. Stone
Anja Benevento
Ava C. Cipri
Nolan F. Meditz
William A. Greenfield
Joel Fry
Richard King Perkins II
Byron Beynon
Tree Riesener
Simon Perchik
Phyllis McLaughlin Nauman
Larry D. Thacker
Howie Good*
John Riley
James T Blanchard
Elizabeth Kirkpatrick-Vrenios
Edilson Afonso Ferreira*
Denise Rogers
David Ishaya Osu
Carolyn Gregory
Bessie Senette*
Ashley Mares
Annie Bien
Amanda-Jane Terlesky
Featured Poet – Mary Carroll-Hackett*
Andrea Wyatt
Aden Thomas
Katie Manning
John Grey
Robert Crisp*
Kelli Simpson
Bill Yarrow
Helen Losse
Diana Raab
Kevin Dwyer
Jeremy Spears
Inalegwu Omapada Alifa
Christine Beck
Meredith McDonough
Charlotte Hamrick
Karen Corinne Herceg
Arlene Ang and Valerie Fox (collaboration)
Nicole Scott
Ajise Vincent
Terri Kirby Erickson
Susan Ferraro Prevost
Sheryl St. Germain
Sandra Sarr
Samuel J. Fox
Richard Krawiec
Rachel Dacus
Lisa Ludden
Lindsey Royce
Laurie Kolp
Kimberly Ann
Juanita Rey
Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith
erin wilson
Elizabeth Burk
Yuan Changming
Darrell Bourque
d. n. simmers
Christine Swint
Tim Suermondt
Sally Stevens
Stacey Balkun
Jason Jones
J. Bruce Fuller
Nicole Melchionda
M.S. Rooney
Alessandra Bava
Charles Bane, Jr.
Arlene Ang
Seth Jani
Mathew Pereda
Keith Nunes
Domenic Scopa
Patrice Melnick
Sam Rasnake
J. K. McDowell
Melinda Palacio
Cathy Safiran
Gina Ferrara
Amber Edmondson
Carl Boon
Kenneth Pobo
Mary Wallach
Susan Tepper*
Hillary Joubert
Alisha Goldblatt
Charles Garrett
Lisa M. Cole
Rich Boucher