Monthly Archives: November 2015

Pushcart and Bettering American Poetry Nominations

Pushcart:

Donna Snyder – Voices from Issue 1
Kai Coggin – Every Black Boy Is A Lion from Rock The Chair
Emily Jalloul – When A Woman Makes Herself Come from Issue 1
Manuel Camacho Jr – Dear Samuel from Issue 5
Meggie Royer – Excision from Horror Issue
Ashlie Allen – Back Demon from Horror Issue

Bettering American Poetry:

Allie Marini Batts – Origins from Issue 2
Kai Coggin – Every Black Boy Is A Lion from Rock The Chair
Ryan Summers – Who Knew That Man Could Stop Bullets? from Superheroes Issue

Review: The Argonauts (Maggie Nelson) – Reviewed by Clara B. Jones

The Argonauts
Maggie Nelson
Graywolf Press
2015
$23.00

Review-Interview by Clara B. Jones

In her 1983 book, Writing Like A Woman, Alicia Ostriker described contemporary female writers as “unorthodox,” “path-breaking,” “rule-breaking,” and “exciting.” Ostriker’s essays investigated the psyches and writing of five female poets, two of whom, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, committed suicide, and, one, Adrienne Rich, who became the foremost feminist poet of her generation. These women wrote at a time when American females were emerging from the constraints of hetero-normative roles. Plath, Sexton, and Rich were mothers and wives who rebelled against traditional roles to develop their talents and to define liberation on their own terms. Some critics have suggested that the current generation of educated women take freedom of choice for granted, struggling with “work-life” balance rather than the social stigma accompanying the dubious fame of sexual pioneers. In her new book, poet Maggie Nelson records the continuing struggles of women mapping identities in uncharted territory, with choices now socially-sanctioned but no less challenging than those faced by their predecessors.

In The Argonauts, Nelson writes of the specific and the general, personal events as well as societal ones. A central experience driving Nelson’s volume is her relationship with the artist, Harry Dodge, and their complex, multi-dimensional, relationship that includes parenthood and Dodge’s transition from female to male, what one critic has called, “male-passing.” The Argonauts does not disappoint as an intense and riveting record of one woman’s love for her partner and her role as mother and of a scholar-poet’s rich intellectual life through which experiences are filtered. After reading the book, I found myself focused on one sentence, “Even identical genital acts mean very different things to different people.”, an interest leading me to contact Nelson, a professor in the School of Critical Studies at CalArts, requesting a brief interview that was graciously granted.

I have been influenced for some time by “queer theory,” especially, as developed by the Post-structuralists, Michel Foucault and Judith Butler. In brief, Post-structuralists conceptualize human behavior as “construction” and “performance” rather than “essential.” For example, Butler suggests that gender is “performed” and, thus, is continuously changing (constructed), rejecting essentialist (inherent) treatments of gender based upon the Male : Female dichotomy or “binary.” Gender, then, is continually being practiced and is not a stable construct. Similar to these views, Foucault presents the idea that gender is “discursive”, something negotiated between and among individuals, not necessarily imposed by authorities (e.g., the law, parents, the government, the police).

Nelson has been called a “political queer,” and I asked her to respond to this description. She communicated (via e-mail) that she would not use the term as a “self-identifier” and that The Argonauts “makes clear” that she wouldn’t use many adjectives or phrases to describe herself (or, I would guess, Dodge). She goes on to say that, “the terms ‘political’ and ‘queer’ are quite contested right now, and often mean something quite different depending on who is speaking them.” This comment clarified the sentence from her book upon which I had been fixated, suggesting a Post-structural perspective that language is in a continual state of flux. Wisely, and, cogently, Nelson continued, “Part of writing books entails allowing others to talk about you in discursive terms that one wouldn’t use oneself, so, so be it!” This same reflection and self-awareness permeates The Argonauts, currently a well-deserved best-seller.

In a future review I will return to the topic of Post-structuralism and poetry by American females, sharing more of my interview with Nelson at that time. Readers of this blogpost are strongly encouraged to read this book by a leading voice of contemporary radical feminism expressed in another quote from our correspondence: “I would, of course, be inclined to think that we all have much to gain by turning away from gender normativity, be it in art, life, or any other sphere.” Like the poets about whom Ostriker wrote more than thirty years ago, Nelson is a “path-breaking” and “exciting” writer whose themes deserve a broad and serious audience.
___________________________________
Clara B. Jones is a retired scientist, currently practicing poetry in Asheville, NC. Her poems, reviews, essays, and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in many venues, and Clara’s collection, Ferguson And Other Satirical Poems About Race, won the 2015 Bitchin’ Kitsch Chapbook Competition, available at amazon.com.

Calavera for my Father by Edward Vidaurre

you died entirely
without me, taking with you
the colors of your small town, its music
and dusty roads. Your hand swept the streets
from the tracks where you walked – and the sounds
of the deep shadowy night. I’ve grieved in front of
a mirror that reflects not, that only bounces off the echo
of my grieving heart. You picked your destiny, I
picked to wait for a sign from the prideful sun.
I stare, destroyed
-alone wearing your lips.
_______________________
Edward Vidaurre, an emerging voice in Latino literature and Beat poetry. His work is forthcoming in The Beatest State in the Union: An Anthology of Beat Texas Writers and in Poetry Of Resistance: An Anthology Of Poets Responding To SB 1070 & Xenophobia. Vidaurre has also been published in other anthologies: Arriba Baseball!, and Juventud! and Boundless–the Anthology of the Valley International Poetry Festival 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, and in literary journals, among them: La Bloga’s On Line Floricanto, Bordersenses, RiversEdge, Interstice, La Noria Literary Journal, Harbinger Asylum, Left Hand of the Father, Brooklyn & Boyle–a newspaper published in East Los Angeles, his hometown. http://edwardvidaurre.blogspot.com/

Flores Para Los Muertos by Adrian Ernesto Cepeda

Hearing the glimmers
between every footstep
walking con mi abuelito
holding my quivering
manos en el cementerio,
feeling los espíritos, santos
vivendo in the wind—
seeing each grave itched
in R.I.P., sadness stone
as I stand among the weeping
welcoming the shivering—
my skin ignites goose-bumping
within us all of these spirits
I listen to the voices, blowing
whispers through the leaves,
no longer fearful among
the tearful signing crosses,
beyond the suits and dresses
silent gifts and prays, finger
besos for the living dead, somehow
still lurking, closing mis ojos—
embracing these whispers
intensely welcoming thoughts
awakening smiles of eternity;
in my head I am no longer
haunted, my eyes now open
for the first time, forgetting
the darkness, smelling
more than the flowers—
my mind abierto to these
beautiful presence—
feeling so many spirits
blinking light through me.
__________________
Adrian Ernesto Cepeda is an LA Poet who is currently enrolled in the MFA Graduate program at Antioch University in Los Angeles where he lives with his wife and their cat Woody Gold. His poetry has been featured in Luna Luna Magazine’s Latino Poetry Project, Thick With Conviction, Silver Birch Press and one of his poems was named Cultured Vultures’ Top 3 Poems of the Week. You can connect with Adrian on his website: http://www.adrianernestocepeda.com/

One Day At Home by Quintana Pearce

I follow the trail of yellow flowers until it ends. There’s no-one here. It’s just a dim, grimy street corner, and the xoloitzcuintli that has guided me simply sniffs at a power pole and sits.

Things have changed. There’s a new building across the road and the giant Indian Fig has been cut down, but I recognize the corner. Along the block is a school, and here is where I used to pick up my boy after he was done being educated for the day. He would get on my microbus and sit on the sloping dash and we’d chat and joke and listen to music while I drove. I left long before I was finished teaching him how to be a man.

It was always a happy corner when he was here waiting for me. He’s not here waiting for me now.

After I was gone, him and his mum went to live with her parents, in a prim and prissy house intended to project respectability rather than to be lived in. I visit him there every year, on my day, and although it never felt like home, it was always a happy house when he was there waiting for me. I’m not there this year. I wasn’t invited.

From this viewpoint there’s no wind on the deserted street corner, and no sound. I’m as lonely as a dog. The xoloitzcuintli sniffs my leg, and farts.

I hear something, and see some flickering lights in the distance. Roaring towards me is a micro, neon lights on the grill, papél picado flapping in all the windows, pictures of farmers and mariachis and, yes, a bus driver. Along the bus is a tube of flashing lights, and a dull throb echoes through the gaps in the windows.

The micro stops in front of me and the doors clang open. Inside is black light, pierced by colored spotlights that swoop and sway across the seats. Guapachosa music spills out, a techno-salsa song that reverberates through my bones and gets my hips moving, despite themselves. The xoloitzcuintli climbs on the bus. Having nowhere better to go, I follow suit.

The driver, who looks like a little boy to my eyes, slaps the gear stick as the doors swish shut behind me. His head is bobbing to the music, and without looking at me he says “have a seat, old man”. I look towards the sloping dash, where there’s a clay cup with burning copal, a dish of salt, a water bottle, and a large photo of me as a younger man, grinning wide and holding a baby.

“Well, I don’t mind if I do, son.” I sit and look around, and there it is. A bottle of Tlaloc mezcal, straight from Oaxaca, the best there is. I drink a shot, and as I ride through the streets of Mexico City with electronic latin rhythms shaking my soul and disco lights slicing around the bus, I know I’ve come home.
_________________
Quintana Pearce writes speculative fiction, science fiction tales to explore reality through the consequences of technology, and fantasy tales to explore the extremes of what life may throw at him. He lives in Mexico and blogs at http://www.peculiarist.com

Universal As Hydrogen by David M. Hoenig

We lose what’s familiar, known, loved, dear,
just as autumn’s exuberance segues to something diminished.
Words are spoken, candles are lit, food is eaten
to remind ourselves we are alive and unalone,
even if we feel a little lost ourselves.

Nothing is rendered so sweet as by its absence,
nor as precious as by bitterness in potent combination.
Shiva’s seven, Hidaad’s three, Dasai’s ten-
airlocks between spaces-
pass, softly, to yahrzeit, jìchén, shraadh, meinichi.

El dia de los Muertos, each of them,
are because we remember and reflect.
Grief and joy are not skin-deep but soul-deep,
reminders that we all love and lose, live and languish,
with a universality that defies accents, borders, and dogma.
_____________________
David M. Hoenig is a practicing physician for whom writing is his ‘second career’. He recently won 2 short fiction contests (Dark Chapter Press, Espec books) and placed 3rd in another (Morning Rain Publishing). He’s had multiple stories published/accepted to different anthologies with Horrified Press, Zoetic Press/NonBinary Review, Drunk Monkeys Literary, Dark Chapter Press, and Nebula Rift Magazine. He has had poetry published in The Horror Zine (selected as ‘Editor’s Pick Poet’ for November 2015), Ad Libitum, and with Horrified Press, and is working on his first novel. Slowly.

Feeding The Dead by M. Brett Gaffney

(originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of BlazeVOX)

Her name is Maria, comida.
They eat her a little at a time.

She likes to be needed, to feel her blood
ebb and flow from their mouths,
tongues like whales lost at sea.

She travels with them, a shadow,
city to city, sneaking them pockets
of herself on the train, offering
her slender wrists
like holy bread in taxi cabs.

Over time her face pales like the sugar
skulls on the streets of Culiacan,
where her father told her stories
of monsters who stole women
for their beauty, warm lips. Papa
she’d say, that won’t happen to me.

But Maria, comida dulce, never knew
creatures this grateful, humble
in asking her to be theirs,
blood-companion, their sated sighs
like a river flowing its waters down
down to thirsty children in villages
forever burning,
such fire-teeth.

They are her children and her
guides. This new life—a tinderbox.

Oh, papa she wants to tell him
if only you could see how they need me—
more than those boys next door
with hands like clumsy vines,
skin sun-kissed and greedy
—how at night they stretch open
like wings, like stars, like hungry pups.

The smallest one, her favorite,
asks her if she misses home
and its holidays, autumn always
a hard season, the hiding months.
Maria braids the girl’s hair and sings,
lets the question slip to dawn.

Sometimes she wants to light candles
and dance in a dress the color
of hot candies—
Dia de los muertos,
where feeding the dead means leaving
sweets and ripe fruit in graveyards,
where our bodies are still our bodies
and we find the way back to lit houses,
windows open and bright to remind us
the darkness can only stretch so far
before we decide to leave it behind
or let it burrow within us and feast.

Maria puts her monsters to bed,
sits to lazily stir beef stew in the belly
of her bowl. She leaves it on the table,
watches the sun rise over the strange
new city, nightgown swallowing her
tiny frame. She’s never felt so fed, so full.
__________________________
M. Brett Gaffney, born in Houston, Texas, holds an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is Art Editor of Gingerbread House literary magazine. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Exit 7, Still: the Journal, Permafrost, Scapegoat Review, Rogue Agent, museum americana, Devilfish Review, BlazeVOX, Fruita Pulp, Stirring, Blue Lyra Review, and Zone 3, among others. During the Halloween season she haunts the Dent Schoolhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio where she lives with her partner and their dog, Ava.

All The Colors of Our Stories Tangled Together by Mirabel

In my tradition of eclectic paganism, Halloween is called Samhain. Like many other traditions, it’s a day we honor our dead. We say the veils are thinnest between the worlds of the living and the dead during this time of year and on this day in particular and messages can pass between the veils.

Samhain 1999. For many years, I hosted a semi-regular Full Moon Circle in my home. Women would gather, we’d do a ritual to honor the Goddess, usually have some kind of craft to take home as a remembrance – paintings, drawings, decorated candles, runes made from clay – and then we would have a potluck feast.

This Samhain would be the last I would host, as I would be making a 4-year commitment to attend school. I would be passing the mantle on to one of the other women in the group.

This was to be a big affair. Instead of the meal being last, it would be part of the ceremony. Each woman was asked to bring a dish that reminded her of someone they loved who had passed. They were also to bring an item that reminded them of that person or pet they were honoring.

As my daughter and I prepped the space and RSVP’s came in, we realized we would need more seating. I borrowed a table and chairs. We set up an altar with mums and pumpkins, decorated the mantle with candles, set the table with autumn-themed partyware.

Usually, we had about 7-10 women at each gathering, as not everyone on our list of like-minded women could attend each month. It was a good thing I borrowed the extra table and chairs, as this night we ended up with 18 women crammed into my living room.

Women began arriving in ones, twos and threes. Food was piled on the tables – mashed potatoes, tortilla casserole, apple pie, tuna casserole, brownies, mac and cheese, cinnamon apple iced tea – lots of comfort food. Candles lit, the room blazing with light and the warmth of friendly chatter, we sat down at the tables, crowded elbow to elbow, with high spirits. Taking a small bit of food from each dish, I made a spirit plate for the ancestors, and welcomed all the women.

The ceremony for the night, once the food was passed around and glasses filled, was for each woman to tell the story of why she chose that particular food, who she was honoring and tell about her remembrance item. After each tale, the remembrance was placed on the altar.

The night was filled with joyful stories of past loves and fresh sorrows at new losses. Each woman’s tale filled the room until all the colors of our stories tangled together in the air. The spirits of those we loved and lost settling into the spaces between, behind and above, their presence palpable and rare.

A scrying bowl had been set up outside under the moonlight, it’s dark depths allowing those who wished to peer into, and see, messages from loved ones past. Several of the women told me they got vital messages that gave them comfort.

But most of all, from that night, I will remember the sweet camaraderie, spirit and light we felt as the shared stories brought us closer together and created a magical night.
____________________
Mirabel is an eclectic pagan living in Central Texas. Autumn is her favorite time of year.

El Día de los Inocentes by Christine Stoddard

When I saw an owl pop out of the lone snag on the red desert plain, I knew you had died. The bird’s saucer eyes were black and yellow and unwelcoming. But even as he stared at my sweating face, I kept walking. The coyote and I had miles to go until we reached Texas. I was the last in the group, the only survivor, the one who persevered.

I persevered through the rocks and sand and sagebrush for you. I persevered without food, without water, without sleep for you. I persevered for and because and with you.

That is, until the owl shot out of that dead, ugly tree and whispered straight into my heart, “La nena está muerta.” My knees buckled and, for the first time in days, I stopped. I fell down to the ground, adding scrapes to my already scraped legs and cutting my left ankle against a sliver of shale.

“¿Qué pasa?” the coyote hissed. He seemed to mimic the owl, with his round eyes just as piercing as the raptor’s.

I did not look at him. Instead, I clutched my abdomen and swallowed my cry because the coyote was staring at me and we had many hours ahead of us. I swallowed my cry because the owl was staring at me and also through me, to my uterus, mocking your dead body, and cackling his cruel whooooooo.

“Nada,” I told the coyote, avoiding his gaze, and picked myself up to keep trudging toward El Paso. I pretended not to see the owl anymore. I saw only you.

¡Vámanos!” he hissed again, as if I were not already walking. I did not reply with my mouth, only my feet.

We kept going. We went so fast that I did not catch the dew on the red cactus flower or the hummingbird hovering in the arid air or the clouds that hung like a tired god in the sky. These were the kinds of details that my dreams obscured. Because it was dreams that kept me going for all of those miles.

I pictured you growing up with mountains of books, playing with clever toys, living in a clean house, going to a school where all the children came home happy. I imagined you reading to me, showing me your drawings, riding your bicycle in a neighborhood full of pretty houses.

And because I had given you the best, you would become the best. You would graduate from high school with accolades. You would go to a fancy college. You would rule the world, all with humility and kindness—and love for me, loyalty to me, your mother.

As I clawed through rocks and brambles, I told myself not to fall for superstitions, that the owl meant nothing, that you would tease me with a little kick once again. You never moved. At some point, my dreams dissolved and I thought only that—that you did not move.
Move. Move. Move. Move. Move. Move.

Hemos llegado,” the coyote said at long last.

I almost didn’t hear him.

¿Estamos aquí?” I asked, my voice raspy because I had not used it for so long.

Later, the woman who took me into her house said that I had fainted. I never pressed for more. All that mattered was that when I woke up to use the bathroom, I confirmed what the owl knew: You would never go to high school, you would never go to college, you would never rule the world. You would never even take your first step.

But your timing was impeccable—I always said you were a smart kid—because I found you in the toilet on November 1st, el Día de los Inocentes, the Day of the Dead for children, a day dedicated to the babies that never bloomed.

Did you have a little calendar in there?

It was my second day in the United States, the Land of Dreams. And, yet, by then, I was done with dreaming.
_______________________
Christine Stoddard is a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer and artist, as well as the founding editor of Quail Bell Magazine. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, The Feminist Wire, Bustle, The Brooklyn Quarterly, So to Speak, and beyond. In 2014, Folio Magazine named Christine one of the top 20 media visionaries in their 20s.

And We Danced by Ana Prundaru

ana

Ana Prundaru is a translator and artist based in Switzerland. She has contributed artwork and words to various venues, including Crack the Spine, Feminist Wire, 3:AM, Off the Coast and Gravel. Her poetry chapbook is forthcoming from Etched Press.