Monthly Archives: September 2015

Review: The Best American Poetry 2015 by Clara B. Jones

cover-best-am-poetry-2015

The Best American Poetry, 2015
Sherman Alexie, Guest Editor
David Lehman, Series Editor
Scribner Poetry
New York

Reviewed by: Clara B. Jones

If you have not heard about the controversy surrounding The Best American Poetry 2015, you have probably been on holiday in a remote part of the Amazon. Sherman Alexie, the volume’s Guest Editor, was duped by a prize-winning, but relatively unknown, poet, Michael Derrick Hudson, using the pen-name, Yi-Fen Chou. According to the Poetry Foundation, Sherman Alexie, the volume’s Guest Editor, is “a prominent Native American poet, novelist, performer, and filmmaker.”, and some have speculated that choice of the poem was influenced by “nepotism” extended to an ostensible minority. After the ruse was revealed, Alexie decided to retain the poem, publishing his unconvincing, internally inconsistent justification as a blogpost at [http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2015/09/like-most-every-poet-i-have-viewed-the-publication-of-each-years-best-american-poetry-with-happiness-i-love-that-poem-je-1.html]. In my opinion, exploitation and deception, like plagiarism, have no place in literature and the arts and should not be rewarded with publication. Nonetheless, despite what I consider a poor judgment call by Alexie, this embarrassment is not likely to detract attention from The Best American Poetry 2015 which showcases emerging, experienced, and high-profile poets who have contributed compelling work.

The volume celebrates diversity in the broadest sense of the term, presenting a range of poetic styles, including, “neo-formalism” and experimental, as well as, American poets characterized by a variety of individual markers, including, sexual orientation, geography, and country of origin. It is interesting to note that, though Alexie is a member of the Spokane/Couer d’Alene tribe, there are few poems in The Best American Poetry 2015 that classicists could categorize as “sociology”, “politics”, or journalism. Most poems are strong in both language and form, music as well as theme, and the reader will find few poems that are provocative or counter-normative. Alexie seems to favor poets who are amused by and not too invested in their material, while, at the same time, offering work that is pleasurable, accessible, and intelligent. The Guest Editor has an “eye” for what the reading public will want to consume, and his selections will be appreciated by non-academics, teachers, scholars, and students. In this sense, The Best American Poetry 2015 takes its social role seriously, presenting poems that respect their readers. As a measure of the quality of work in the volume, three contributors, Amy Gerstler, Terrance Hayes, and Jane Hirshfield, have been longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry. These poets set a high bar for other poems in The Best American Poetry 2015, a standard achieved in many contributions. The volume is recommended as an authentically inclusive and rewarding experience that is certain to attract a wide audience.
___________________________
Clara B. Jones is a retired scientist, currently practicing poetry in Asheville, NC. As a woman of color, she writes about identity and power. Ofi Literary Magazine, Transnational, Bluestem, The Review Review, Mount Island, and 34th Parallel are among the venues her poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in, and her collection, Ferguson And Other Satirical Poems About Race, won the 2015 Bitchin’ Kitsch Chapbook Competition and is in press. In the 1970s, Clara studied with Adrienne Rich and has studied recently with the poets Meghan Sterling and Eric Steineger.

These Are My Hips by Jessica Wiseman Lawrence

When I lie on my back,
I run my hands
down the curve
of my waist,
cross my arms,
and cup my hips.

I think, “These are my hips.”
When I’ve lost, I rub
hollow of the bone.
When I’ve gained,
the softness rests
on them, and the flesh
shifts down,
And I think, “These are my hips.”

These are my hips.
They are biologically formed
into perfect wings.
They have strengthened, grown, spread
from a girl’s hips.
They have cradled my daughter
until I split to allow her
into the world.
They have cradled my daughter
until she could not balance there
again.

These are my hips.
They have served.
One day they will weaken and cripple.
One day they will turn into dust.

Before that dust, please
cross my hands over my hips
when I leave this place.
Let my last thought be
“These are my hips.”
_________________________
Jessica Wiseman Lawrence studied creative writing at Longwood University. You can find her recent work upcoming or published in Stoneboat, Origins, Black Fox Literary Magazine, and The Feminine Divine’s upcoming Anthology of Female Voices, along with many others. Additionally, one of her poems has recently earned a Best of the Net nomination from Revolution John. She lives in rural central Virginia, where she is an office manager by day.

Parting Song by Sonja Johanson

Days after a heart is retracted
we only have the ability to do certain things.
We can go looking for answers in the blaze –
who is at fault, what the problems are,
the integrity used in two sets of images,
the skittish equation encompassing who we are –
the hardest battle when you’re working on
the fringe, they’re on view, at once stiff and florid.

Or, despite widespread public longing, we
can do things that are fun and whimsical: give
kisses to families handing out orange slices,
examine the regenerative capacity of the heart.
The beautiful taboo, unexpected terrain
of your life after a death. Beginners welcome.

Source text: Boston Globe, April 12, 2014
_______________________________________________
Sonja Johanson graduated from College of the Atlantic, in Bar Harbor, ME., is a contributing editor at the Found Poetry Review, and is the 2015 recipient of the Zero Bone and Kudzu Poetry Prizes. Sonja divides her time between work in Massachusetts and her home in the mountains of western Maine.

Happy Independence Day by Marcie Eanes

Police sirens shatter peace
in affluent neighborhood.
Deafening wales heard for miles around,
all cruisers screech to sudden halt
on two freshly manicured lawns.
Thin blue line separates two warring neighbors
battling loudly in adjoining driveways.

Officers briskly separate pair
Each is quickly escorted
into their own backyards,
urged to take slow breaths
before calmly telling story.
White man sheepishly admits
it was him
who yelled out the word ‘nigger’
instead of addressing Black woman by name.
She parked car in her driveway,
began unloading groceries
said nothing to him.
A mere joke , she looked so mean
Everyone should be smiling;
Today’s July Fourth.

Indignant, he added
his family stayed put
when her husband and kids
moved next door
No complaints until now.
Fault is partly hers for screaming curse words at him;
Kids shouldn’t be exposed
to such low-class filth.
Unnecessary confrontation disturbed everyone’s holiday meal
Afterall, this isn’t confederate south
Red,
White,
Blue flags
blow gently in summer breeze
celebrating liberty in north.

__________________________
marcie
Marcie Eanes is an independent journalist/[poet. Author of two poetry collections, Sensual Sounds, and Passion’s Zest, her most recent book, Cameo, details her reinvention from newspaper reporter to traveling poet. Marcie won second place at the 2015 Austin International Poetry Festival (AIPF) for her poem, ‘Personhood.’ It also marks the fifth straight year her work appears in di-verse-city., AIPF’s official anthology. Visit www.authormarcieeanes.com for more information.

Best of The Net 2015 Nominations

1.  Donna Snyder – Voices (Issue 1)
2.  Zelda Chappel – The Muscle Feast (Issue 1)
3.  Logen Cure – This Is How I Know (Issue 1)
4.  Emily Jalloul – When A Woman Makes Herself Come (Issue 1)
5.  Serra Ota – Give Grant Laptop (Issue 1)
6.  Kevin Fisher-Paulson – Green Lantern Has A Friend In Jesus (Superhero Issue)
7.  Adrian Ernesto Cepeda – Buzz Me: [Ode to Chau] (Superhero Issue)
8.  Laurie Kolp – Figure 8 (Superhero Issue)
9.  Sean Wofford – The Guy With The Coffee (Superhero Issue)
10.  Rachel Schmieder-Gropen – Recipe For Frog Soup (Rock The Chair)

Interview With Scott Thomas Outlar

Scott Thomas Outlar has appeared in the first three issues of Yellow Chair Review and he agreed to talk with me about some of his work, current and upcoming as well as the things that inspire and motivate him to continue writing and publishing. – Alexzan

____________________________________________

AB: When did you start writing? What prompted you to do so?

STO: I recall having written a few short stories based around Nintendo characters, as well as some rather silly song lyrics, back when I was in elementary school, so I suppose the initial seed was always there from an early age. It wasn’t until years later, after graduating from high school, that I began writing again. At that time it was mostly journal entries and bad, abstract lyrics…basically a way to flush out many years worth of angst and depression onto paper. I continued in this vein for a few years, filling up notebooks with what I now would refer to as being absolute gibberish. It was in 2003 that I realized that I wanted to start writing books. That is the moment when I really began dedicating myself to the craft. It took several more years before I began writing anything decent…a few short stories here and there. I always knew that I wanted to eventually publish, but I was going to make sure that I was completely confident in my work and ready to put 100% effort toward the process before I took the dive and began submitting.

AB: What is it that inspires your writing?

STO: Inspiration can come from just about anywhere for me. I might wake up with an image from a dream rolling around in my head and write about that. Music, of course, is always a driver of creativity. I might be reading another poet’s work and some word or phrase they use could trigger my mind off on a tangent that turns into a poem of my own. Nature inspires me. The search for truth inspires me. The madness of this American society inspires me. Spirituality, literature, philosophy, psychology, politics, science…there really is no end to the well of possible inspiration (thank God).

More specifically, when I look over some of the pieces that have appeared in Yellow Chair Review, I would say about “To the Fascist Fundamentalist Editor” that the basic inspiration this poem sprang out of was not necessarily based on any actual experience I’ve had, but more from the general idea that some people have about what a “real” poem should be. It is a response to different schools of thought based on form and structure that might have a tendency to look down on free verse or abstract poetry. Personally, I find that there is a place for all forms of art, be it poetry, music, painting, or whatever else. So I tend not to get hung up on how a “proper” poem should be presented. All that being said, I also enjoy being purposefully provocative and writing things that I know will get a rise out of some people. So this poem was written from a sarcastic bent, with tongue placed firmly in cheek. One of my mottoes when it comes to my words is this: my writing should always be taken with at least two and one-quarter grains of salt. A glass of wine and a smoke aren’t a bad idea, either.

There is never a lack of inspiration to draw from when it comes to the decadence and corruption in this world. I don’t make any secret about the fact that I’m an anarchist at heart, and I have a rebellious streak in my soul that runs about six miles deep, so I am constantly breathing fire with a loaded tongue against the institutions of government, public education, the military industrial complex, Big Oil, Big Pharma, what I refer to as the medical industrial death machine, some of the more fringe aspects of dogmatic religion, the Federal Reserve, revolving door bureaucratic cronies, and fascism in all its myriad shapes, sizes, fashions, and forms. I tackle these topics in much of my work, but where they are examined most closely is at Dissident Voice.  My archive at this social justice newsletter probably contains around 80 essays and poems at this point. The editor there, Angie Tibbs, was the first person to ever accept one of my poems just over a year ago, and I’ve been publishing a weekly piece at the Sunday Poetry Page ever since.

AB: Is your work mostly inspired by your own experiences or are there writers/artists that inspire you as well?

STO: I go through phases where I’ll write autobiographical pieces, but I look at my work primarily as being a reflection of what is going on in society and around the world. There are basic conditions and emotions that we all share as humans, so I try and draw on those as the general core of what I work outward from.

When it comes to other writers and artists that I’m inspired by, the list is long. Some of the most influential and inspirational to me have been Hunter S. Thompson, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Hermann Hesse, Friedrich Nietzsche, Roger Zelazny, Robert Silverberg, Joseph Campbell, Thich Nhat Hanh, Marcus Aurelius, Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, Maynard James Keenan, Daniel Johns, and on and on…

The truth of the matter is that during the past year since I started publishing poetry, I have been reading almost exclusively the work of other contemporary poets. There are so many good writers out there that I’m almost afraid to start another list out of fear I’ll leave someone out…but, what the hell, eh? Just a few are: Jay Sizemore, Kevin Ridgeway, Heath Brougher, Nicole Yurcaba, Amber Decker, Mike Jewett, Sarah Frances Moran, Matt Duggan, Neil Fulwood, and Strider Marcus Jones. That’s ten of probably a hundred who I could say inspire me regularly with the quality of work they put out. Ye gods! There really are so many more I could list. The indie lit scene is in the beginning of a new Renaissance. I’m going to just put that on the record right now. There is a rising tide, and I’ll be right up front and honest about the fact that I want to be a drop of water in that high wave when it peaks.

AB: Are you currently working on anything that we get to look forward to? Any little hints for us?

STO: I have a contract for my chapbook “Songs of a Dissident” that I should be signing very soon. I can’t give an exact timetable on when it will be released, but hopefully it should be coming out in the not too distant future. I’ve also had some initial conversations with Scott Wozniak about putting out a collaborative book through his Flying Wrench Press. We both have a bit of a revolutionary bent to our styles, so if it should happen to develop I think it’ll be rather inflammatory when all is said and done.
However, I’m still fairly new on the scene at this point, so what I try to focus on mainly is making solid connections with editors and publications in an effort to build a foundation for potential future projects. I’m still constantly sending out submissions, trying to get my feet wet in as many venues as possible. I also keep my blog 17numa.wordpress.com updated on a regular basis with new poetry and links to any published work that comes out. Anyone interested in connecting with me can do so at the blog, as well as on Facebook and Twitter where I’m also fairly active.

AB: Do you have words of wisdom for writers who are stuck in that period of rejection that seems to last forever? The acceptance letter is always a ray of sunshine after a dry spell.

STO: If there is one thing I’ve learned so far as a published poet it is that there is only one thing in life that never gets old, and that is receiving an acceptance letter in your email’s inbox. Now don’t get me wrong, good conversation, gluttonous feasting, and wild sex are always pretty epic too, but speaking on a strictly professional level, nothing beats the acceptance letter.

But, of course, with the good there is also the bad. Thus we come to the question of the rejection notice – that villainous form letter that plagues us all from time to time (sometimes more often than others). What I would say about being rejected is, first off, it’s going to happen. A lot. It’s a catch-22 in some ways, because the more courage you have in sending out your work, the more you’re going to get rejected. Hell, there is a chance it might happen to me as I type this very sentence (though that would be a cruel twist of fate, indeed). The main thing about being rejected is to always remember that writing, especially poetry, is an incredibly subjective field. Every editor and publisher is going to have their own personal likes and dislikes, pet peeves, soft spots, and opinions on what they are looking for. The context is almost infinite when it comes to what journals are seeking. Some venues may prefer shorter pieces, while others prefer longer. Some magazines might prefer personal anecdotes, while others dig metaphorical, abstract, meandering pieces full of allusions and wild surrealist imagery. That is why it’s important to research the markets that you’re sending work to. Read the different publications to get a feel for what type of style and aesthetic they are generally drawn toward, and concentrate your efforts on those spots that you feel your work best vibes and syncs with. Even then, you’re still going to get rejected, but try not to let it get you dejected. If you believe in your work and know it to be good, then I assure you that there is somewhere out there that’ll accept it. Remember also that editors are human just like you are; they have good days, bad days, happy days, sad days, and all the days in between. We all try to be objective in life, but let’s face it, sometimes our mood affects our decisions. So if you submitted a piece full of fire, brimstone, and apocalyptic fire, and the editor that is reading it can’t stop thinking about how in love they are with their new significant other, well, tough luck, you’re probably not going to get an acceptance this time around, Bubba. But if that editor recently went through a bad break up and has a heart full of black coal at the moment, well, ding, ding, ding, your chances with said piece are probably increased. That is just one rather crude example meant to drive home the point that it all comes down to context. The bottom line, after all is said and done, is persistence. If you have the drive to be successful and you are willing to keep sending your work out into the ethereal realms of submission land, you’ll come out alright in the end.

AB: And writer’s block! Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? Do you have any secrets for combating the wall?

STO: I have to say that I’ve been fortunate for quite awhile now in being able to put out work consistently. The main reason for this I think has to do with the fact that I try my best to accept whatever type of mood or mindset I’m in at any given time. So whether I’m feeling happiness, sadness, jubilation, depression, melancholy, confusion, fear, spiritual ecstasy, existential dread, or whatever other emotion, I don’t fight against it, but instead use it as a propellant in the artistic process.
One trick that I might throw out there is to find different poetry prompt challenges and let your inspiration start from a place outside your own consciousness. Sometimes a random word, line, color, design, or picture can spur something down in the depths of your bowels that triggers the release of ink you’re seeking. Another suggestion when you find yourself in the rut of not being able to write is to try and write about not being able to write. Turn the energy back upon itself in a type of implosive jujitsu maneuver in which you shift the very force of writer’s block into a force of creative inspiration. If all else fails, throw the pen down, take your shoes off, step outside in the sun, and take a walk out in nature…forget about your work for a little while. Reconnect with the holy flow by just having a bit of playtime…before you realize it, you just might receive a little spark of something-something that flashes across the neuron synapses of your brain as the next big idea coming into form…

_________________________________________

scott

Vaginal Virtue by Saheli Mitra

My virtue in my vagina
Your power in those genitals,
Did then the vice hide behind those muddy fields?
Where the golden harvest
Swayed in the morning breeze
Ready to feed the hungry mouths?
Serene flocks of fragile cranes
Hovering around the flowing pieces of nine yards.
Tattered and torn,
Smeared with the crimson rays of the morning sun.
Prisms of stains,
Patched designs,
Blots of blood,
A lifeless arm peeping past that harvest divine.

Virtue lost?
Hid behind those swaying crops
Where the cranes yearned for a meal,
Yet found none.
They left hungry,
Dancing on the ripped vagina,
Claws soaked in mud.
Virtue carried on their wings,
To a distant land that heard
My shrieking cries last night.
When your power
When your brains
When your virtue
Made way through those genitals,
Robbing me, of mine?

In search of my modesty
I lay dead,
Amidst the muddy fields,
Where I played as a child,
Where I sowed the seeds in rain,
Where I nurtured the crops with love.
As a blushing bride,
A caring mother,
I tread the morning dew.
They still spell of my virtue
Snatched, crushed, but never lost.
________________________________
Saheli Mitra is a mother of a very naughty son, an author, journalist, blogger and loves writing poems to ease her stress. She feels poetry, breathes poetry and loves using it as a tool of protest. Saheli lives in the diverse and vibrant country of India.

Gunbearer by Drew Attana

for Cecil

They come year-round, in herds,
in packs like the wild game they
lust after, bribed to get close to,
and plan to leave broken, free of
flesh, split wide open like their
own mouths after the gunshots.

I’ve watched them all die, some
from the first bullet, the others—
bigger, more agile creatures like
the buffalo or lion take wounds
like merit badges and crawl off
to die alone, in the trusted brush.

These adventurers, these aliens,
shout and shake hands, they fire
from the safety of diesel and steel,
looking only to us, perched upon
corrugated bumpers, for canteens,
to go out and fetch their new rugs.

The flies beat us to the bodies, on
open eyes and along ragged holes,
and as we draw long knives, some-
times the beast groans, pleads, to
sink, along with their tracks, into
the wet earth, and we allow them.

In camp, hunters drape themselves
in mosquito nets, drink champagne
because the sun has set—while we
sleep outside, beyond canvas flaps,
listening for the approach of heavy
paws, the roar of tomorrow’s prize.
____________________________________
Originally from Los Angeles, Drew Attana spent over a decade kicking around the West Coast, getting into trouble from Tijuana to Portland, before heading to Cajun Country. His fiction has appeared in Pathos Literary Journal and his poetry has appeared in Eunoia Review, Drunk Monkeys Magazine, and is forthcoming in Apeiron Review. He is currently living and writing in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Interview with Donna Snyder

For Yellow Chair Review’s inaugural interview, I thought it would be appropriate to talk with the inaugural poet, Donna Snyder about her piece, Voices, and her other writing endeavors. She is accomplished and well respected and it was quite an honor to speak with her!Alexzan Burton

________________________________________________

AB: So around when did you start writing? What prompted you to start writing?

DS: Without ever thinking in terms of me being a writer, when I was 13 or so, I wrote a series of poems and monologues and gave them to a teacher who threw them all away. When I learned that she tossed them all in the trash, I immediately stopped experimenting with language. Twenty years later I began writing in the free write workshops presented by various Santa Fe writers, really pretty much as a lark, on a dare from my ex. In these workshops, we wrote on the spot and then read aloud. I also got the chance to read in public with some other terrific writers. Both in the workshops and the performances people gave me great positive reinforcement so I continued writing. At the time I primarily wrote fiction, monologues and dialogues, and memoir, but I did create a computer folder called “poetry like substance,” so there was some barely acknowledged thought that I might also write poetry.

AB: Tell me about your inspiration for Voices.

DS: When I founded Tumblewords in 1995, I modeled its format after the Santa Fe writing groups I participated in. I wrote the first draft of Voices at Tumblewords around 2009, after hearing some Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath poetry read by the presenter. A few months ago, I read a piece by Anne Sexton which inspired me to find my own poem, do some rushed editing, and share it with a friend, Mike Jewett, the editor of Boston Poetry Magazine. He urged me to submit it to Sarah Frances Moran, the founding editor of the still new Yellow Chair Review, who he has advised and encouraged, but said if for some reason she did not accept it, he would publish it in BPM. With his support, I sent it on to Sarah and it was chosen in the Rock the Chair weekly challenge.

More specifically, the inspiration was my strong identification with the horrors both Sexton and Plath suffered, labelled as mentally ill and subjected to harsh and invasive therapy, when perhaps their true illness was really just reaction to the ridicule and other hurdles brilliant women have faced in the arts or other professions. So much that is a part of creative people’s lives and entwined with the genesis of their art is and has been labeled as pathological or neurotic or disordered or psychotic or manic. The psychiatric practitioners and treatment providers have long attempted to medicate away or otherwise diminish what looks like diagnostic criteria to them, but is really a part of the creative personality. Additionally, Fernando Botero’s art about the tortures at Abu Ghraib were much on my mind, and a few details made it into the first part of the poem.

AB: Are you currently working on anything we can look forward to seeing?

DS: I’m doing the final final FINAL edits of The Tongue Has its Secrets, coming out very soon from NeoPoiesis Press, which has diverted most of my energy necessary for individual submissions of my work. On an ongoing basis, I write book reviews for various ‘zines and the local newspaper. Of course, I write every week at Tumblewords, which is the source of most of my publication credits for the past decade and a half or so.

AB: Do you use a blog or website where we can keep up with you and your work? And also links to other publications and maybe that book that we spoke of on the phone?

DS: My blogs are poetry from the frontera, raw poetry, and The Vagina Gun. You can read several of my poems at VEXT Magazine, Boston Poetry Magazine, and in other journals and anthologies. Some of my book reviews are at Queen Mob’s Teahouse, at la bloga here and here, and at Red Fez.

AB: If you find yourself in a block, can you share some secrets that help you come out of it like…authors that inspire you or people or an activity? What’s your writer’s block cure?

DS: Twenty years of writing on a dime at weekly workshops with the Tumblewords Project has been a wonderful cure-all for any problem with my writing, whether block, laziness, shyness, avoidance, depression, grief, or needing to try some experimentation. But anyone can practice writing and reading aloud with one or more friends in someone’s home or at a café or some other conducive location.

AB: Do we get to keep coming across your work in Yellow Chair?

DS: I certainly hope so!

__________________________________

unnamed

The Ache by Tolonda Henderson

When it gets real bad and I want to use so I can hallucinate her back to me, I call the hotline. Hearing a stranger describe her hair or the little outfits I bought her means the drugs didn’t create her, even if they destroyed her. That helps me sleep.

_____________________________

Tolonda Henderson is a poet, a librarian, and a Harry Potter Scholar. Since 2011, she has been writing and performing from the unique perspective of a queer African-American woman. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Freeze Ray Poetry, Big Lucks Journal, and Open Letters Monthly.