Archive

Poetry

My apologies to anyone following my blog regularly.

We’ve been in the process of moving, which has constrained my time considerably, and I haven’t posted anything in much too long.

However, we seem to getting towards the end, or the beginning of the end…

Also, I just received welcome news regarding my film “Astronaut Goes From Migrant Fields To Outer Space.”  It has been selected as the Third Place Winner, in the Experimental Film category, at the Los Angeles International Film Festival.

Lank, Beak & Bumpy is an intriguing and attractive chapbook freshly out from iota press, which sets a production standard with work this good. The chapbook is elegantly designed and beautifully wrought, handset in Ehrhardt 12 pt. type, & printed on Mohawk Superfine paper with a 1913 C & P supercool foot-powered platen press.

Author Mark Jackley earns his keep as a business writer in the Washington, DC, area. He’s also a thriving poet. His work has appeared in numerous journals in the U.S. as well as overseas and over borders in India, Australia, England, Ireland, and Canada. In addition to Lank, Beak & Bumpy, he is also the author of two previous chapbooks and the full length collection, There Will Be Silence While You Wait (2009, Plain View Press).

Lank, Beak & Bumpy contains seventeen short impressionistic poems which cohere well thematically and emotionally. They feature strong images and a minimalist economy, and often have a haiku-like feel in the sense of breath but an intimate American diction. Jackley’s voice is both informal and musical and I found myself easily drawn in.

The low orange moon
makes the Ohio River shine
like a black pearl
among the hushed sheds
of Catlettsburg, Kentucky.

I am radiant and massive.

(from “Orbits”)

This has that Southern concern for rural space, tainted but still worshipped in an effort to honor the permanence of the observed and felt though fleeting, however subtle or ordinary. Here the poet figures more prominently and less plaintively though and the scene becomes a kind of minor monument in memory, a piece of the life lived. The poem becomes the vehicle.

While he uses the South as a reference frame, Jackley is spare overall in terms of geographical concerns, and his verse often roams indoors, though the materials and themes defy domestic tranquility, or at least complacency:

Like a Shaker bowl
the house contains the silence
of belief, and
like a Navajo basket
containing none of our business
it is keeping quiet

(from “Later On Our Wedding Night, Two Silences In The House”)

Jackley writes primarily from a first person perspective, and often begins in medias res, which creates a natural tension because of the compression demanded by each poem’s brevity. To paraphrase and also invoke Williams, as these poems do, at least for me, so much depends upon a few very tangible and personal details. I think Jackley intends the heritage, as one of his poems is titled, “A Picture Of You In Cut-off Shorts Grinning At The Chickens.”

In contrast to Williams and his red wheelbarrow, Jackley’s attention and connection to detail is decidedly more expressive than mysterious:

is on the bulletin board
but the pinhole’s
in my heart

Jackley writes more knowingly than Williams does, which one must of course in 2010. However, rather than troubled the work more often feels satisfied with itself and with the world, but never smug:

These lines strung out like
a goose hung on a Chinese
market window hook…

…are indelible without
the flame of your attention

(from “Minimalism”)

Verse this brief leaves little room for error as any missteps are painfully obvious and in general unforgiven. The work will crash and burn. Fortunately this does not occur in Lank, Beak & Bumpy. I was impressed with this chapbook, which has much to recommend, both in terms of its physical presentation—a solid well made book to hold and read—and with the precise, realized ambitions of the poems.

Lank, Beak & Bumpy ISBN: 0-9773843-2-2
Iota Press, 925-c Gravenstein Hwy., Sebastopol, CA 95472

Simulposted On We Write Poems

Here is a recent podcast interview I did in anticipation of the screening of “Astronaut Goes From Migrant Fields To Outer Space” at the WILDsound TORONTO Film Festival this Saturday, May 1st.

I’m happy for the publicity, both for the film and hopefully the compassionate, coherent side of the immigration issue, given the current experiment with codified racism and a Geheime Staatspolize version of the American Dream in Arizona.

Sadly, hatred and ignorance remain omnipresent and galvanizing forces despite the sublime milestone of a black president and our unique history as a nation of immigrants.

From the Associated Press: “Key provisions of Arizona’s immigration legislation, signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday:

Makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally by specifically requiring immigrants to have proof of their immigration status. Violations are a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Repeat offenses would be a felony.

Requires police officers to “make a reasonable attempt” to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Race, color or national origin may not be the only things considered in implementation. Exceptions can be made if the attempt would hinder an investigation.

Allow lawsuits against local or state government agencies that have policies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws. Would impose daily civil fines of $1,000-$5,000. There is pending follow-up legislation to halve the minimum to $500.

Targets hiring of illegal immigrants as day laborers by prohibiting people from stopping a vehicle on a road to offer employment and by prohibiting a person from getting into a stopped vehicle on a street to be hired for work if it impedes traffic.

The law will take effect by late July or early August.”

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

–Emma Lazarus, 1883 (Inscribed on a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty)


Lillian and David Brummet are the gracious hosts of the blogtalkradio program, Authors Read, a weekly fifteen minute broadcast presenting live as well as prerecorded readings by storytellers, poets & writers.   Produced in Canada, the show is international and both the featured artists and the audience are diverse, representing many styles and approaches to writing.

This coming Monday the 22nd at 12:00 PM , I’ll be reading from
Primitive Mood.   Since the show is archived, it’s possible to listen to it any time after it appears, using the link here.

I recently received more good news concerning my film, “Astronaut Goes From Migrant Fields To Outer Space” which has now also been selected for screening at both the SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival in Pawtucket and Providence, Rhode Island (April 7-11, 2010), and the Imago Film Festival in Elgin, Illinois (April 5-9, 2010).

So based on this latest information, the film will actually premier at the SENE Festival’s Opening Night kickoff in Pawtucket on April 7th, rather than on the 10th in Delaware.

I’m excited about the recent selection of my short film “Astronaut Goes From Migrant Fields To Outer Space” for inclusion in the Hearts and Minds Film Festival in Delaware next month. This will be the film’s premier screening at a festival, and is in fact the first film that I have submitted for consideration.

Here is a synopsis/director’s statement:

“In the U.S., immigration is both proud and tragic legacy. Except for the original people from whom a continent was stolen, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Yet each new wave that arrives with few possessions and many dreams find they survive, not because of, but in spite of, what they find: the least rewarding and most dangerous work, and the contempt of those already here.

As a child, Jose M. Hernandez trekked from Mexico to the fields of California where he picked strawberries with his family under the tense and squalid conditions migrant laborers still experience. In the summer of 2009, he traveled into space as an astronaut on the Discovery space shuttle.

His story honors both the desperate struggle of immigrants and the greatness of which they are capable.

As a filmmaker and a poet, and someone of Latino descent, I feel I must contribute in some way to the search for justice.  Because as an issue, immigration is so contentious and sensitive, I have also been striving to find a perspective that rises above the standard arguments, that is positive as well as principled, in the hopes that I might reach those on all sides. In making a film about the astronaut Jose Hernandez, I believe I have found this point of view.”

Here are some details about the Hearts and Minds Festival and its artistic mission:

“JOIN US!

5th Annual Hearts & Minds Film Festival

Friday, April 9th, 2010 – Delaware State University Campus

Saturday, April 10th, 2010 – Schwartz Center for the Arts

DOVER, DELAWARE

Our festival showcases “super-independent” films from around the world – things you won’t see screening at just any movie theater or on TV.

Each entry was selected not only for its excellence, but for its focus on social issues and the human condition: from faith to homelessness to race and identity to disability culture. In an era of increasing social and economic challenges, these films herald a timely call to awareness and service. There will be something for everyone who enjoys media that features remarkable characters from many walks of life, fiction and non-fiction films of all kinds.”

“If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, multiply that image by 24 or 30 frames per second and imagine the impact on an audience that a well crafted, issue-oriented film can have! In the best tradition of documentary film-making, independent artists today are lifting their “voices” by pointing their lenses at subjects critical to the health and sustainability of communities around the world. They draw attention. They celebrate. They rage. They entertain. And always, they create conversation.

People the world over love movies. Perhaps like no other art form, good films bring people from disparate backgrounds together, in one room, to share the entertainment experience. By selecting films that focus on topical subjects such as economics, crime, literacy, the environment, and themes that address the human condition like relationships, health, survival, legacy, Hearts and Minds Film seeks to acknowledge new works and to inform, inspire and empower diverse audiences in community-based settings.”

Pamela Johnson Parker is an adjunct professor of composition and creative writing and a medical language specialist in Western Kentucky.  Her poems, flash fiction and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in The Binnacle, The Other Journal, New Madrid, Pebble Lake Review, Holly Rose Review, Six Sentences, MiPOesias, Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal and Anti-.  A Walk Through Memory Palace, published by Qarrtsiluni literary magazine as the winner of its 2009 poetry chapbook contest is Parker’s first chapbook or book-length publication, perfect bound with a glossy cover and surreal art by Carrie Ann Baade.

The chapbook title alludes to a mnemonic device developed in antiquity in which the user associates fragments of oratory or other text with physical locations in an effort to facilitate memorization.  The locations considered together form a “memory palace,” derived from Cicero’s story of Simonides, who escaped the gods’ destruction of a banquet hall, and used his recollection of the guests’ seating to identify the dead.

Consisting of ten poems, several of which are longer pieces, the book ranges far in its psychological and narrative geography, while keeping its temporal focus on the past.  In terms of mood, A Walk Through the Memory Palace relies on intimate rather than objective reporting.  So the title feels apt with respect to the poems, providing them a framework where their own interrelationship is less important than diverse connection with the poet as source.

This said, there is a strand of the bucolic, of the country house whose garden offers paths to a nearby pond, which threads a number of the pieces together.  In addition, the poems’ inhabitants and their surroundings tend to be viewed from portrait distance, and the language is well crafted and delicately informed.  Parker’s verse finds its power in gentle irony, quiet onomatopoeia and a lush though domestic lexicon.  The evident structure makes the most of a refined music, primarily brief stanzas and short lines consistent in syllable count, sometimes more formal with respect to meter or rhyme.

The first piece in the book, 78 RPM, demonstrates Parker’s skill at distilling felicity from nostalgia.  Here the second person perspective and a hint at the autobiographical, or at least directly witnessed, allow a sensuous return to the adrenaline and pheromones of adolescence.  The language is a filigree of the precisely observed, a snapshot packed with dynamic tension.

As the heavy arm angles

From left to right, as
The stylus traces
Its sapphire finger

Down the record’s groove,
As he skates a single
Finger along the sun-

Bleached down of your
Arm, and as you
Start to shake,

Heart rising and
Falling like Billie’s
Song, cool water poured

To the top, brimming,

Similarly, in Tattoos, a poem consisting of two parts, the language is a smorgasbord of the exotic, the colorful, and the intricate.  The first part focuses on the materials that compose tattoo ink—

Aisles of densities, textures:
dry dun-colored globes,

the testes of arctic
seals; cicada skins, fingers
of ginseng. Silver

Assam teas, great sacks
of rice, geese screeching from crates.

but ultimately furnishes a male protagonist to give the language an erotic gradient and intensity,

“Good for the kidneys,”

says the clerk — young, stripped
to the waist, a great dragon’s
body rippling across

his back, undulant
as he turns, wrapping spices,
plum wine, packages

in brown kraft

The second part zeroes in on the metaphor of the flesh as canvas for the indelible ink of experience, boosting the erotic mercury level even higher:

I want you
so much it hurts to
breathe, want your voice, telling
me about anchors, hearts, names
like Winona,

or Felecia
(either regional or
seductive); about
needles; about inks
of cinnabar, navy, that
almost piceous

black; about the tattoo
of skin against skin, that
most ephemeral
of canvases…

Breasts, the final poem in the collection, taps into Parker’s other textual expertise as a medical writer, effectively animating the sterile jargon of anatomy and frozen sections by juxtaposing it with a breast cancer patient’s living narrative.  What’s remarkable here is the poet’s emphasis on inspection—visual findings being a key part of diagnosis and medical management.  Parker presents multiple perspectives—that of the woman examining her normal breast, that of a clinically “objective” observer, that of the patient status post mastectomy, that of the pathologist, that of the poet, and that of the poet as affected witness, relative of the afflicted.  The effect, given Parker’s magnifying powers of observation, is striking.

Suturing, suturing,
Interrupted silk. The scar
Crosshatched, diagonal

From shoulder to her
Xiphisternum. Zipper, zipper.
Something’s wrong with this

White leather, this
Epidermis sliced and scraped
And stitched — no nipple,

No tissue, no muscle,
No lilt

Some Yellow Tulips, the one poem in the collection I found unsuccessful, suffered because its subject, the Holocaust, is less easily penetrated by Parker’s intimate tropes.  Genocide brutally resists understanding and even if the survivor-protagonist of the poem stoops to the familiar task of raising tulips, she is not of their world.  Parker relies on aesthetically satisfying comparisons to speak for themselves, and they cannot:

Today, her turban slants
Askew over her blue-rinsed hair; her plants,

Once straight as soldiers on her patio,
Are blitzkrieged out of order, the yellow

Tulips (three days blossoming in a vase
Atop her wrought-iron table) don’t erase

Her frown, her sloppy slippers, or the brown
Age spots (about the size of dimes around)

She often hides with gloves.

Parker also asks the stark rigidity of rhymed couplets to supplement the survivor’s concept of order as a source of security.  But this is more earnest than ironic, and misses the mark. The Holocaust is the ultimate corruption of order.  It is Nazi discipline.  It is dirt. It is bits of bone and ash, not the flowers that grow from them.   The poem does glance against a worthy truth: that the present has its own order against which survival can seem a disturbance, a scar, like the tattooed numbers on an old woman’s arm.  But this revelation appears only as a resolving coda.  Ultimately, it is Mrs. Sonnenkrantz herself who represents the terrible blossoming.  Perhaps she deserves a more harrowing exploration, which in the end must undermine beauty.

However, if Some Yellow Tulips misfires aesthetically, it does so like a dark bulb in a string of outdoor lights, letting the rest shine, their circuit still intact.   Parker has a wonderful palette of language, and good instincts for the memorable.  A Walk Through the Memory Palace richly demonstrates both.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 54 other followers