microreview & interview: Emily Corwin’s tenderling

review by José Angel Araguz



Looking up definitions of the title phrase to Emily Corwin’s tenderling (Stalking Horse Press, 2018), I found three meanings: one definition refers to one who has been coddled, or one who is weak or effeminate; the second has the word “tenderling” refer to a little child; and the last to one of the budding antlers of a deer (source). I find the juxtaposition of these definitions fascinating, particularly the pronounced mix of weakness and affection in the first two, and the nod towards strength and protection in the third. The poems in Corwin’s collection reflect a sensibility capable of interrogating each facet of these definitions, challenging the perceived weakness of illness while subverting the world of children’s stories and fairy tales, all while presenting the fact of the poem as a space where strength and imagination can bud and flourish.

In “tantrum,” for example, the uncontrolled outburst of anger implied in the title is seen as a mirror able to reflect back not a self but a slip of self that overwhelms:

at first, this terrible mirror, gutted. it is thinking of taking me.
at midnight, screaming illness, I fill a particular dark. I rustle, I
thrash—a girl loose in the bramble, getting wretched, smashing
up a glass syringe. how to return this rage, how it circles endless
—like bruise, like stone too black. I get hurt in you, becoming
skeleton. my ruffles everywhere, wilting.

The mirror metaphor here is far from passive; aligned with the idea of a tantrum, the mirror becomes an active part of the outburst, threatening to redefine the speaker. Succumbing momentarily, the speaker “fill[s] a particular dark” and is witness to seeing herself as “a girl loose in the bramble.” This slip of self creates a desire “to return this rage,” a desire which ultimately goes unfulfilled, but which in itself is revelatory. As mirrors in fairy tales often serve as passageways to other worlds, what matters is ultimately getting back home. Here, getting back entails not home but the self, and also naming what was experienced, the “hurt” and the “wilting.”

The work of naming experience is done here and elsewhere through attention to the fluidity of language. As with the multiple meanings of the word “tenderling,” this collection consistently engages with language for its variety as much as for its veracity of feeling. The opening of “split oak,” for example, makes compelling use of anagrams:

you felt me, you left me — moaning open in a landslide.

Having this three word phrase turned on its head with a quick shuffle of letters creates dramatic tension in a poetic way, concisely evoking two sides of a relationship. Yet, beyond the wordplay, it is meaningful to emphasize how the word implying intimacy (“felt”) is made up of the same letters and thus holds the word implying that intimacy’s end (“left”). Later, in the poem “torn,” the speaker notes

how you can’t spell slaughter without laughter,

bringing these words together in a way that evokes urgency and intimacy mixed with threat. In this way, tenderling makes its case for language as a kind of bramble, one from which identity and relationships work at turns to free themselves from and lose themselves in.

Corwin’s poetic sensibility remains engaging throughout tenderling because of this complex relationship with language. Words and fairy tales alike are repurposed and reclaimed in poems that point to something beyond themselves. There are no simple retellings here; rather, what occurs in these poems is more akin to resurfacing, language and self coming up for air.

In “abacus” (below), the metaphor of a mirror returns, only here its counterpart is a smartphone. The way the self is complicated and reflected across glass and social media apps is meditated upon, until the language of technology and relationships merge in a moment of bittersweet awareness.


abacus – Emily Corwin

I use my phone as a mirror. I have zero likes. I like
mud-rose & jewelweed & you. you left my body cells

astonished. I am missing you something fierce in these
greenfields & oil fields & fields of scary love I do not like.

such a long way from this little while together. with you,
it is a presence or absence of claws — your hands that might

injure. desire holds me like a knife. what do you want me to
say to that?
you say back. I research what larger animals are

most likely to kill me in the surrounding areas — most likely
horse or dog — & you think my hair is alive & it is. I get so

impossible with emotion, blighted, startled like a starling.
I order the latest version of a cave — tight, dripping — where

I can disappear into. I remember we enjoyed getting down
low in the bull thistle, downloading each other. you sent:

remember this? in your message request. the attachment
failed to load, inside the glow screen, silken.


Influence Question: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

Emily Corwin: I believe that the shape of the poem on the page is just as important the content. A poem’s form is its container, and that container provides information to the reader about what kind of speaker this is, the pacing of the line, the breath. Form lends physicality to our encounter with a poem. So, in tenderling, and in all my work, I like to experiment with shapes. This collection came from the first two years of my MFA at Indiana University, during which I was really into prose poems. There was a cleanness, a precision to that shape which I liked—the prose poem as a container felt tidy and orderly, juxtaposed with the sprawling, listing, anxious, messy quality of the voice in these poems.

There are lots of poems out there which re-adapt fairy tales, which play with themes of witchcraft, magic, femininity, dark woods, bodily transformation. This is a familiar set of images—however, my particular slant on these images concerns mental illness, chronic pain, and morbidity. I have a hip impingement on my right side, which causes me daily pain and discomfort. The cartilage between my hip bone and socket has essentially been worn away over time, most likely from my years as a ballet dancer. I also have misaligned ankles, for which I have to wear orthotics, as well as a generalized anxiety disorder highly focused on sudden and violent deaths.

After being diagnosed with these conditions—both physical and psychic—I was drawn to gurlesque poetics as a potential aesthetic for my work. Gurlesque aims to “enact, signs, bodies and psyches in crisis” (Lara Glenum, “Welcome to the Gurlesque: The New Grrly, Grotesque, Burlesque Poetics”). I want to demonstrate those crises, but not in such a way that the reader will leave the poem feeling despair. My intention is to show that it is possible to live with pain and beauty simultaneously, a life that is grotesque and lovely too. I think this is how the fairy tale as a genre works for me—the fairy tale is a space filled with irregular bodies and bodies in transformation—fairies, giants, unicorns, mermaids, princes and princesses turning into wild animals like swans, frogs, beasts. I imagine that in a fairy tale world, my body and brain would fit, in all its irregularities, conditions, illnesses.

Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing these poems and how did you work through them?

Emily Corwin: My struggle with this book is the same struggle I have always. I am an inherently impatient writer and reader—I think the reason I was drawn to poetry in the first place is because it’s short, it’s concise. I really struggle with prose. As a poet, I write fast and prolifically, which can be good, but also means that sometimes I rush (or I worry that I rush) through editing and submitting my work. James Reich, at Stalking Horse Press, has been excellent with catching things I missed when I first submitted the manuscript, with making changes that I suddenly needed, with being so kind and thoughtful throughout this process. I am consistently hard on myself and it helps to have an editor who is encouraging, who believes in the work and in me. I think I will always be impatient with myself, but surrounding myself, especially in the last year, with a community that I trust has made me feel okay, has helped me to let go of some of my anxious obsessing and to move forward with the next project.


Special thanks to Emily Corwin for participating! To find out more about Corwin’s work, check out her sitetenderling is available for pre-order from Stalking  Horse Press.

19511246_10159192203360657_4469382361765686401_nEmily Corwin is an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University-Bloomington and the former Poetry Editor for Indiana Review. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Gigantic Sequins, New South, Yemassee, THRUSH, and elsewhere. She has two chapbooks, My Tall Handsome (Brain Mill Press) and darkling (Platypus Press) which were published in 2016. Her first full-length collection, tenderling is forthcoming in 2018 from Stalking Horse Press. You can follow her online at @exitlessblue.


microreview & interview: Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s Malak

review by José Angel Araguz


Autobiography at Fifty Feet – Jenny Sadre-Orafai

We’ll write our autobiography when we’re teenagers,
before we grow into our teeth. Before we meet
people who will laugh at us for reasons we’ll talk about
when we’re older and divorced. And we’ll both still know
our exes because we have to, not because we want to.
We’ll write our autobiography just before we kiss
in the log flume tunnel, our log smacking against the rail,
and we’ll pretend, for that part of the ride, we are old and blind.
We’ll write that I squirmed next to you when you said
there were snakes and that they’d launch themselves
like canned confetti into our log, that wasn’t really a log
of course, that the kids, somewhere behind us, said
the water smelled like urine. We’ll tell everyone
in our autobiography that our teeth glowed
in that darkness when we laughed.

One of the great pleasures of reading Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s Malak (Platypus Press, 2017) is engaging with the balance between urgency and seeing at the heart of these poems. The poem above, for example, uses the future tense phrasing of “we will” to dip both into the past and then that past’s future in a compelling way. This play with verb tense creates the feel of one looking in several directions for pieces of a story. As the poem develops its narrative of past and past/future, details of hurt and lost love are doled out, leading up to a scene on a log ride as the log enters a tunnel, a literal plunge into darkness. This image of the speaker and the you being carried into the dark brings together the implications so far in the poem; that there was hurt in both the past and later past of this couple, and that they will have found each other by the later point of the poem’s creation. What is being sought by looking in several directions around this story becomes clear when the last line reclaims laughter; something that at the beginning of the poem was a source of hurt, is, in the last line’s remembered, re-narrated moment, into a instance of brief light.

This balance between urgency and seeing plays out in the collection in a number of other ways. One key way is in the form of poems dealing with the poet’s grandmother, whose name, Malak (the Arabic word for “angel”), gives the book its title. The significance of the name Malak is further charged by the grandmother’s gift for divination. In “Company,” the reader learns:

Malak hears futures in cups the way we
hear oceans inside shells. Families we know rush
through Turkish coffee, scalding their throats.
They wear black stripes down their tongues like
Plains garter snakes

This brief excerpt presents both Malak’s natural ability as well as the urgency with which she is sought out. Here, the ability to divine and read coffee grounds is described as hearing, which expands the word “seeing” as I have been using it. In the world of these poems, seeing is something that occurs via a variety of senses, and, as in the case of “Autobiography at Fifty Feet,” tenses. Whether seeing or listening, picking up on what is yet perceived and what it means is the crux for both grandmother and poet.

In “Listen,” one sees the speaker engage with their own attempts at sussing out meaning from the elements of the world:

We found the first bird behind the museum near Sixteenth.
We held hands and it wasn’t vulgar until we were standing

at a funeral. Yes, I let go first. My wings pulled in tight.
Death is the most comfortable suit.

And I wanted to take its picture like the bird was going off
to its first day of school.

Here, the speaker draws a number of meanings out of a scene of discovering a dead bird. One is the subtle pivot into the “vulgar” which occurs upon the realization of the bird’s death between the first and second couplet. The nuanced phrasing between stanzas evokes the way human actions, such as holding hands, can be recast by death. When the speaker later admits to wanting to “take its picture” as one would a child on the first day of school, there is a pivoting of an image of death back onto life. Again, the reader is presented with a poem that lyrically veers between two planes of meaning (here, life and death). The impression is of an urgency felt by the speaker to see more of what is happening before them, to “listen” in on what she might be missing. If “Death is the most comfortable suit,” then the living must squirm and wrestle in discomfort. One of the sources of comfort, Sadre-Orafai’s collection contends, is in exploring and finding meaning.

In the poem below, a childhood memory of the poet’s father is similarly plumbed for the meanings it has to offer. The washing of grapes and the care implied are balanced against an image of a father teaching self-rescue swimming to an infant. This powerful juxtaposition opens up the complexities of a human relationship without trying to answer or explain them. In this poem and elsewhere, Malak makes clear that the divination available for the poet is one of imagination and evocation, a divination that offers not answers, but another kind of perception.


Jamshid’s Angoor – Jenny Sadre-Orafai

In the spring I am at my childhood home.
My father goes to and from the store
with dark grapes for his daughter.

He holds them by the tops
of their heads to the sink, drops
them in a bowl. Dunking them,

he pulls them out like he’s making
something more than grapes clean.
He’s cautious with his hands like

he’s a father of an infant again.
Like he’s a father of an infant again
who makes her body go corpse

every time she hits water and then
waits for the attention, the calling,
the bringing of her body back to life.


Influence Question: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

Jenny Sadre-Orafai: As I’ve gotten older, my definition of poetry has become less rigid. I also think that literature is constantly contesting genres. So, with this collection I was less strict with myself about what is and what isn’t allowed. Even though the manuscript was rejected more than a few times, I felt that the prose section really needed to be there. I remember reading Kate Greenstreet’s Young Tambling and just being blown away by her writing of course but also what she included in the collection—photography, notes, etc. But, most importantly, the presentation wasn’t a gimmick. It was necessary and intentional. Maybe it sounds dramatic, but as a Type A person, I saw it as brave. Malak was my way of being brave I guess. I didn’t want to be limited by form or genre so much all the time. I wanted to free myself up. If a poem needed to be a prose poem, then it was. If a poem didn’t need punctuation, then I didn’t include any. I was always intentional though. It took me a long time to get to this place though and it’s my hope that I keep pushing against what I think I can and can’t do.

Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing these poems and how did you work through them?

Jenny Sadre-Orafai: I’m a fairly private person, so publishing poems about my family can be a challenge sometimes. Since I’m so close to them, I feel protective about what I share. But, there’s a special frequency I see and hear when I’m around them and it’s difficult not to write about that. Another hurdle for me with this book was writing about being sexually assaulted. I’ve never written about my experiences in the twenty-four years I’ve been writing. So, the poems in the collection that speak to these times were incredibly terrifying for me to both write and share. But I think this loosening with genres and form happened around the same time I began to untie all these emotional knots I’ve been carrying around for so long. Writing this book, like writing any book for me now, is my way of learning to be vulnerable. It’s not always comfortable and I think that’s okay.


Special thanks to Jenny Sadre-Orafai for participating! To find out more about her work, check out her siteMalak can be purchased from Platypus Press.

555Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Malak and Paper, Cotton, Leather. Recent poetry appears in Cream City Review, Ninth Letter, The Cortland Review, and Hotel Amerika. Recent prose appears in Fourteen Hills and The Collagist. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.

microreview & intervew: Craig Santos Perez’s from unincorporated territory [lukao]

review by José Angel Araguz

lukao cover

from the legends of juan malo (a malologue)


(the birth of Guåhan)

“Guam” is now named “Guåhan,” which translates as [we] have. As in [we] have deep water and the U.S. expects [us] to home port 60% of the Pacific fleet. Or [we] have to continue supporting the Navy (one team, no seams). Or [we] have a last place ranking in annual per capita medical spending on Chamorro veterans #islandofforgottenwarriors. St Michael the Archangel, tayuyute [ham]. “Guam” is now named “Guåhan,” which translates as [we] have. As in [we] have resources for the taking. Or [we] have our customers’ needs as our first priority. Or [we] have to change our name after the Obama administration referred to the East Wing of the White House as “Guam, pleasant but powerless.” “Guam” is now named “Guåhan,” which translates as [we] have. As in [we] have many nicknames, including USS Guam, The Tip of America’s Spear, Unsinkable Aircraft Carrier, Superfortress Guam, The Trailer Park of the Pacific, America’s Gateway to Asia, and Micronesia’s Gateway to America. “Guam” is now named “Guåhan,” which translates as [we] have. As in [we] have been tricked out and targeted. Or [we] have tourism 2020 vision when setting forth a plan for the future. Or [we] have a charmingly exotic, endangered look. “Guam” is now named “Guåhan,” which translates as [we] have. As in [we] have to change our name after Mariah Carey appeared on American talk shows with a dog she got in Mexico and named “Guam” : “Here Guam, here Guam, stop hiding Guam, Guam is a good boy.” St. Roch, tayuyute [ham]. “Guam” is now named “Guåhan,” which translates as [we] have. As in [we] have many names for our people, including Chamorro, Chamoru, Tsamoru, CHamoru, Guamese, Guamesian, Guamish, Guamaniac, Guamanian, Guatemalan, Chaud, Indios, Mestizo, and Mexican. “Guam” is now named “Guåhan,” which translates as [we] have. As in [we] have serious identity issues because our original meaning has been translated as “lost.”

Craig Santos Perez’s from unincorporated territory [lukao] (Omnidawn, 2017) is the fourth book in his series engaging with the history, ecology, and mythology of his homeland Guåhan (Guam) and his current home, Hawai’i. Perez braids these three themes via a variety of poetic modes, making use of the news articles, interviews, and other sources to create a text that gives space to a variety of voices. In fact, voice is at the heart of this collection; whether drawing from his personal experience or making use of a persona as in the poem above, Perez brings an urgency into the voice of each sequence, marking them as political in a way that honors the personal.

This balance is further achieved by the inclusion of a “Sources & Additional Materials” link at the end of the book, a resource that emphasizes the importance of the project as well as its presence beyond the page. A note in this resource informs the reader that:

—Juan Malo is a young, poor Chamorro man who lived in Guåhan during Spanish colonial occupation. His mischievous adventures (reminiscent of other indigenous tricksters) involved outwitting the Spanish governor and other officials with the help of his carabao (water buffalo). In Spanish, malo means bad.

With this framework in mind, one can see the “from the legends of juan malo” series of poems as Perez placing the subversive and fluid energy of the trickster persona at the service of that other equally fluid and subversive entity, human language. In “(the birth of Guåhan),” there is a charged insistence in the repetition of the phrase: “Guam” is now named “Guåhan,” which translates as [we] have. This insistence engages with the plasticity of sound as well as meaning. As the prose poem develops, the juxtaposition of historical facts about Guåhan against Juan Malo’s faux-playful tone works to keep the reader unsettled while simultaneously informing them and keeping them close. One feels the political tug-of-war reflected in Guåhan’s history played out via this poetic insistence. Through the repetition of “tayuyute [ham]” (“pray for us”), however, the poem maintains a human charge as well.

Along with this flavor of intertextuality, Perez also creates “poemaps” which depict such things as the use of toxic chemicals in Guåhan as well as the island’s role in global communication via having more communication cables routed through the land than Hawai’i or California. Like the use and riffing against historical facts in the poem above, the visual subversion in these poemaps work to evoke from the reader an awareness that is only half an awareness. Because this is a book of poems and not a history or anthropology book, there is a sense of being invited into the factual world these poems spring from, but also of being asked to dwell in the complexity of what these facts mean beyond themselves. This unsettled mode is more fruitful than aggressive. More to the point, the book’s multivalent poetic approach demands a multivalent reading. One of the accomplishments of Perez’s project is that it presents its concerns on its own terms.

The reason for such an approach becomes palpable in such moments as this one, drawn from “ginen organic acts“:

as a patgon : child, i never heard the creation story of our first mother, fu’una (whose name translates as first), or our first father, puntan (whose name translates as coconut sapling) // grandma always said “in the beginning was the word and the word was god

her fingers erode
rosary beads // waves erode
coasts \\ words erode

Here, a childhood memory is rendered through a hybridity of form and language. The move from prose to poetic lines evokes the move from memory’s necessarily patchy connection to a moment of focus and understanding. The stanza above drives home the theme of language being subversive and difficult; because language is fluid, it is capable of eroding the meaning it creates. The use of slashes in both directions in the stanza above evokes the waves described while at the same time implying the breaks in meaning this moment represents.

Yet, from these breaks in meaning, further understanding can be wrought. This seems to be the hope of Perez’s book. Nowhere is this hope more evident than in the sequence of poems dedicated to the birth of his daughter. “(first teeth)” (below) renders a scene of his daughter (addressed as [neni] in the poem; the mother is addressed as [you]) during teething. Because even parenthood doesn’t happen in a vacuum, Perez’s poem weaves recent incidents of violence into an ode to what matters most for this poet and this book of poems: life.

from ginen understory

(first teeth)


[neni] cries from teething // how do parents
comfort a kid in pain, bullied in school, shot

by a power drunk cop #justiceforkollinelderts
\\ [you] gently massage her gums with your

fingers // count how many children killed in gaza
this hour of siege \\ how do [we] wipe away tear

-gas and blood, provide shelter from snipers,
disarm occupying armies #freepalestine //

[you] recite the hawaiian alphabet song
to [neni] \\ what lullabies echo inside detention

centers and traverse teething borders to soothe
thousands of youth atop la bestia #unaccompanied //

[you] rub her back warm with coconut oil
\\ how do [we] hold violence at arm’s length

when raising our hands up is no longer
a sign of surrender #blacklivesmatter //

[neni] falls asleep in your cradling arms,
skin to skin, against the news \\ how will [we]

teach her to safely cross any body of wter
by believing in her own breath #


Influence Question: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

Craig Santos Perez: To me, poetry is an art form through which I can express my thoughts and emotions about culture, identity, place, the environment, history, and politics. Poetry can capture the deeper meanings of life, expose injustice and inequality, and articulate decolonial and sustainable futures. I believe poetry can educate, inspire, and empower people, as well as dignify and humanize people who have often been denied our dignity and human rights. This new collection, and all my books, are grounded in these foundational beliefs about the power of poetry.

In terms of form, I believe poetry is a dynamic art that can bring together poetry and prose, the visual and the virtual, the real and the fictional. Throughout my work, I interweave narrative, lyric, epic, prose, collage, imagistic, and avant-garde forms/techniques to create a complex and fragmented basket of words. To me, this makes the work multi-formalist and polyphonic.

Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing these poems and how did you work through them?

Craig Santos Perez: One challenge was finding a way to arrange the diverse forms, techniques, and subject matter into a harmonic composition. As fragmented and indeterminate as my work is, I always try to counterpoint with access points symmetry. My other challenge was how to bring together in a compelling way the different discourse of history, politics, environmentalism, culture, memory, and personal experiences. To work through these issues, I revise extensively, and I also experiment with various orderings and “maps” of contents.


Special thanks to Dr. Craig Santos Perez for participating! To find out more about his work, check out his sitefrom unincorporated territory [lukao] can be puchased from Omnidawn.

author photo copy 2Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guåhan (Guam). He is the co-founder of Ala Press, co-editor of three anthologies of Pacific literature, and the author of four poetry collections. He has been the recipient of the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the American Book Award, as well as fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the Ford Foundation. He is an Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, where he teaches creative writing and eco-poetry. 


microreview & interview: Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves

review by José Angel Araguz


Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves: notes on a disability (Squares & Rebels, 2017) is a collection of creative nonfiction essays that explore and report the inner and outer realities of living with myasthenia gravis, a “a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles, which are responsible for breathing and moving parts of the body, including the arms and legs” (NINDS). The language of this definition, in light of its clarity and conciseness, or perhaps because of it, does little to bring the condition into human terms. One of Davio’s gifts is her ability to translate the complexities of her experiences into relatable moments via an authentic, engaging voice, a voice capable of insight and snark, as well as compelling honesty.

The opening essay, “Strong is the New Sexy,” for example, starts:

In the hospital complex, I sit in a room with a woman who plans to teach me how to swallow. Or, to re-teach me. I came into the world knowing how, born with the universal instinct to suckle and feed. I knew how to swallow just as I knew how to breathe. It’s just that, somewhere along the way, my body’s muscles have forgotten.

Here, Davio recasts her condition as a species of “forgetting,” a phrasing that would seem simple were it not also connected with “the universal instinct” mentioned earlier. This connection evokes the depth of vulnerability felt in this moment; the breaking down of the body means a breaking down of the self. This transition and necessary “re-teaching” doesn’t happen in a vacuum either, but rather in the public, fraught atmosphere of a hospital. The influence of the outside world is evident a little later in the same scene:

On the other side of the plate-glass window of the physical therapy room, hang gliders swoop down from the pine-covered mountainside. Their sails are the bright neon of 1990s fashion, and it’s impossible to miss the daredevils with their spectacular, spandexed bodies. I wonder whether the location of the window is intended to be inspirational: a call to the possibilities of good health, a motivation to perform one’s exercises well and get back out there. I have an impulse to drop the blinds over the window. I’d like to occlude the mountain.

In these opening paragraphs, we have a different kind of clarity and conciseness than that of medical jargon. There is the clarity of one’s thoughts and feelings during the awkwardness of physical therapy, but also the clarity of what colors the experience. The indirect violence and insistence on difference implied by most so-called “inspirational” posters is never more charged than in a medical setting. In a context where one is forced to question and doubt who they are bodily, posters like the one described here force an inner questioning of one ‘s attitude. For this reason, the sentence “I’d like to occlude the mountain,” is striking not only in its agency and defiance, but also because it comes from a speaker who themselves is feeling “occluded,” blocked and forgotten by their own body.

One of the questions I feel this collection of essays keeps asking and answering is: Who are we in the face of what we don’t know? This is engaged with in a dual manner throughout. Like in the above, the essay “On a Scale of One to Ten” presents a scene where outside pressure, this time in the form of a doctor’s question, forces a quick gauging of one’s self. In response to a doctor’s request to tell “what percentage [she’d] been debilitated by [her] neurological disease” during an assessment for surgical intervention, Davio experienced the following:

“What percentage?” I had prepared myself for all kinds of possible outcomes in this consultation. I was ready for anything, from him brushing me off to telling me that I’d need one of the more gross and undesirable procedures for which he’s known. One thing I hadn’t prepared for was performing quality-of-life math on the spot. I didn’t know how to put a number to the way I lived, or to the extent to which I’d adapted, year after year, to a new and inadequate set of circumstances.

I told him, “I have no idea.” He assured me that he just wanted an estimate, as though that clarified anything. At this point, I was emotionally exhausted, and I was frustrated. As I often do when frustrated, I said whatever came to mind.

“I haven’t been able to chew a salad for three years. I can’t teach a whole class anymore. I can’t walk anywhere without falling. I stop breathing sometimes. You tell me what percentage that is.”

He stopped typing away at his computer, swiveled around in his chair to look at me, and smoothed out his tie. “I think you answered my question.”

Here we again have a disconnect between the clarity and conciseness of the medical world versus the language of human experience. While the use of math terms to discuss one’s pain carries its own thwarted ambition, what stands out more in this scene is the disparity between Davio’s frustration and consequent edged statement “You tell me what percentage that is,” and the detail of the doctor “[smoothing] out his tie.” This latter detail symbolizes the discomfort, even on the part of the professionals trained and paid to treat patients with chronic conditions, feel in the face of said patients’ realities. Which is where the duality of the question, Who are we in the face of what we don’t know, comes into play. In this scene, Davio has to summarize an experience in an impossible way; in the process of giving an answer she doesn’t know how to give, Davio herself becomes something that the doctor doesn’t know how to respond to. At the end of this scene, she is frustration, he is a tie to be smoothed down.

What these essays make clear through scenes like this one is the range of things one has to reckon with as one learns to live with a chronic medical condition. From unpacking the shaming and misinformation about disability in mass media, popular culture, and writing conferences, to her experiences living and working in England pre-Brexit, Davio’s gift for writing relatable, unromanticized accounts of her life remains consistent. One thing that the trio I mentioned above – insight, snark, and honesty – do well in this collection is to keep things dynamic. Time and again, when the world shows itself as wanting to neglect, ignore, and not see her, Davio stares right back, answering the impulse to “smooth down” and look away with essays that are undeniable and unignorable.


Influence Question: Did your background as a poet come into play in any way as you put together this essay collection?

Kelly Davio: I think my work as a poet did play a role in how I approached the subject matter of this book. Poets have these great toolkits for examining the world indirectly; it’s as though the whole of our training is geared toward delivering ideas and information in the least likely way possible. If we can compare nonfiction to another medium, like photojournalism, then poets are probably the most like these intrepid photographers who take underwater portraits of people’s pet schnauzers. So yes, poetry taught me to come at my subject matter from unusual angles, and that has allowed me—I hope—to keep this fairly universal subject matter fresh for the reader.

But there’s another respect in which writing these essays was a new experience for me. When I write a poem, I’ve typically gnawed on the idea for some time before I put the text down on the page. I have an idea of what I want my underwater schnauzer portrait to look like. Essays turned out to be more exploratory for me; in my early drafts, I was writing to understand something, whether about myself or about the world around me, eventually revising down some more fully formed idea. That was a really exciting process for me as a writer, because I hadn’t really felt that same kind of freedom to wander around on these long, intellectual hikes before.

Influence Question: One of the great accomplishments of this book is your ability to write sober, unromanticized yet relatable accounts of experiences like being an American living abroad and engaging with the (mis)representations of disability in popular culture. What were some of the obstacles and/or lessons learned in evoking this hard-earned clarity on the page?

Kelly Davio: First of all, thank you for that! I think that the greatest challenge I had in writing these essays was getting past the stigma that exists around my subject matter in the literary world. I cannot tell you how many times I was lectured by other writers on the global truths that there’s no audience for books about illness or disability, that reading about other people’s pain is boring, that personal essays aren’t a legitimate thing to be publishing in the first place…you get the idea. For a long time, I bought into that stigma.

I got over it one morning as I sat in a panel discussion on the craft of essay writing at a literary conference. I had been hoping for a discussion of—oh, I don’t know—the craft of essay writing. But what I and the other attendees got was an hour or so of some hung-over looking guys I don’t think any of us had ever heard of roundly mocking the work of several well known women writers who publish personal essays. I left that room knowing exactly who my audience wasn’t. Who cared what those guys thought?

After that panel, I decided I to write whatever the heck I wanted. I wrote the kind of thing I wanted to read, and I trusted that there were other folks who might want to read the same kind of thing. Since the book’s come out, I’ve been enormously gratified to find that, yes, there is an audience for this work, and they’re much more pleasant people to hang around than those sour-grapes panelists, anyway.


Kelly_Davio_web-1Special thanks to Kelly Davio for participating! To find out more about her work, check out her site. It’s Just Nerves can be puchased from Squares & Rebels.

Kelly Davio is a poet, essayist, and editor. She’s the author of essay collection, It’s Just Nerves and the poetry collections, Burn This House and The Book of the Unreal Woman, forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2019. She also writes the sometimes-column “The Waiting Room” for Change Seven Magazineand her work has been published in a number of other journals including Poetry NorthwestThe Normal SchoolVinylThe ToastWomen’s Review of Books, and others. She is one of the founding editors of the Tahoma Literary Review.


microreview & interview: Jennifer Met’s Gallery Withheld

review by José Angel Araguz


Met Object

At the end of “Coming of Age in Idaho,” the second poem in Jennifer Met’s chapbook Gallery Withheld (Glass Poetry Press, 2017), the reader is presented with the phrase “an immovable feast” which hearkens back to Ernest Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast. This reference is key on a number of levels beyond wordplay. For one, much of the poems in Met’s book challenge and subvert the very stereotypes and gendered double standards that make possible the aura of a writer like Hemingway. Rather than rail against said aura directly, these poems imply it through sharp insights. As Idaho is “Hemingway country” and the site of his final days, the speaker’s “coming of age” is akin to rising from the ashes of a certain kind of writing tradition and taking flight into another.

Which is where another level of meaning can be found: this collection brings together lyric poems that trouble traditional poetics through engaging, experimenting, and expanding upon the visual poetry and projective verse traditions. Each poem can be seen as “an immovable feast,” either fixed on the page through intuitive choice or fixed into shape through a formal choice. In “The Object of His Desire,” for example, the narrative of a young boy collecting rocks is troubled when presented in the poetic shape of a woman. This confluence of content and form is purposeful and distinct; if the words were flushed left, they’d still be the same words, but they wouldn’t say the same thing they say in this shape. It is the gift of a visual poem to engage with a language’s plasticity and provide opportunities for multivalent, complex readings. For example, as the poem ends on the idea of facelessness, one can’t help but return to the shape of the poem, and note that where a woman’s face would be are the words: “You see / I’ve always / been drawn / to metaphor.” This implies another facelessness, a societal one. The casual tone of these words further point to the learned narratives of childhood and their insidiousness.

This critique of stereotypes continues in “Old Made: Self-Portrait in a Negative Space,” (below) which lives across from “The Object of His Desire” on the facing page. Where the shape of a woman is the shape of the poem in “Object,” in “Old Made” a woman’s shape is everywhere the poem is not. Even in describing this difference due to formal choice carries with it some of the charged critique that is everywhere in the poem. The assumptions behind the phrase “old maid” are challenged in the title; the rephrasing to “old made” implies how ideas of “old” are “made” in lack of knowledge and lack of connection. It is telling, then, to consider the way this poem ends and begins with the word “Us.” Stereotypes like the one challenged here can make a person feel that they are nothing in the face of others. This feeling is further implied in the form; where the woman’s face would be in this shape, there is instead a list of conjunctions, “if….and….but.” Which is to say that where a face, one’s most personal, recognizable feature, would be, there is instead a brief scatter of words standing alone. Read alone as they are, this list could be read as a half-started, unfinished, and unlistened to protest.

The poems of Gallery Withheld again and again make space to listen and engage with the half-started and unfinished. Reading these poems, one is left like the speaker in “Lefty Loosey” who contemplates Robert S. Neuman’s painting “Monument to No One In Particular” along with another woman who

the structure with a frown
and when she leaves I take
her angle hoping
for direction

Each of these immoveable feasts invites the reader to come closer to the text in their reading. And like the speaker above, we must reflect that “its chaos is just / not meant for me or her / or my father in particular / but us all.”

Met Old Made

Influence Question: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

Jennifer Met: I don’t have an MFA and my undergrad degree is in Molecular Biology, so I have a very open opinion of what poetry can be—I am not limited by an idea of what a perfect “workshop” poem should sound like in order to be accepted as real, good poetry. In fact, I am often drawn to forms (like haiku/haibun, speculative, ekphrastic, and concrete poetry) that seem to have more of an outmoded or niche status in the contemporary poetry scene. In a time when poetry has such a limited readership I think it is silly of us to narrow the definition of what poetry can be. I love to read and write widely, and without labels!

In this vein, Gallery Withheld contains poems that have abandoned frames and formal spaces of presentation. They run the gamut from experimental to lyrical to narrative and contain variations of haibun, ekphrastic poems, persona poems, and more. While they share thematic elements exploring definitions of gender, objectification, and the intersection of word, art, and identity, the main binding thread of the collection is that the form of each poem contains some sort of shape/concrete element. More than just a gimmick or a literal, visual shorthand of the content, I think a good shape, like a good title, can lend an extra layer of meaning and engagement to a written piece. It is particularly important in these identity poems as we are so often judged and defined by our visual elements.

For example, take the poem “Object of His Desire” from the collection (originally appearing in experimental poetry journal The Bombay Gin). On the surface it is a charming anecdote about a child keeping pet rocks in an egg carton, but add the shape—an icon—a perfect, bathroom-door skirted woman—and the words become much more sinister. You notice how the rocks are being objectified and their plight becomes symbolic. Sure, they are treated nicely, but are “animals” (implying a hierarchy), and taken care of (again, implying power), named (implying possession and external definition/validity). Then, when the rocks, just like the woman-icon shape, are left without faces, we see how their feelings, even their individuality, ceases to matter. How without eyes, nose and mouth, they are unable to sense stimuli. Static—unable to interact with their environment, process or ever change. Trapped unable to speak and respond. But without any sensory input, they are unaware that this is even an issue—the system feels perpetual, grand, safe, even desirable. Hence the poem becomes the definition of “woman” as seen not just by a man, but by us all—a blank, yet somehow identifiable, object. However, this meaning only exists when the text is paired with the shape.

Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing these poems and how did you work through them?

Jennifer Met: One of the challenges in writing these poems was wrestling with their literally “concrete” nature. Generally I started with an anecdote (narrative or image-based), then formed the polished prose into a meaningful form while trying to be mindful of good line breaks. However, poetry is such a fluid and organic process that this proved limited—the content would inform the shape, which would then re-inform the content, which would then re-inform the shape, in an endless cycle. However, it is not easy to cut or change even a single word without seriously disturbing a set, concrete, typographic shape, so I found myself constantly constructing a shape only to take the writing back out and revise it before reworking it back into a form. Because of this I actually felt the freedom to do a lot more straight-out rewriting than my revisions would usually entail.

Rewriting seems like a lot of work, and even a betrayal of our charged first-words, but it benefitted this collection so much that I have continued the practice in my current poems to great success. While changing single words or just reworking stanza breaks has never been my idea of revision, I have started to really scrap and rebuild poems—often saving only a few phrases, a single image, or even an idea that had unexpectedly developed during its initial writing—a process I highly recommend.


Special thanks to Jennifer Met for participating! To find out more about her work, check out her site. Gallery Withheld can be purchased from Glass Poetry Press.

met_biopic_gJennifer Met lives in a small town in North Idaho with her husband and children. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a finalist for Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and winner of the Jovanovich Award. Recent work is published or forthcoming in Gravel, Gulf Stream, Harpur Palate, Juked, Kestrel, Moon City Review, Nimrod, Sleet Magazine, Tinderbox, and Zone 3, among other journals.  She is the author of the chapbook Gallery Withheld(Glass Poetry Press, 2017). 


microreview & interview: Rossy Evelin Lima’s Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate

This week’s microreview & interview features Rossy Evelin Lima’s Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate (artepoética press, 2017) whose poems are presented below in the original Spanish first, followed by English translations by Don Cellini.

lima cover

review by José Angel Araguz

Hacia el sur – Rossy Evelin Lima

En la frontera hay letreros
que señalan con una flecha
hacia dónde está México: hacia el sur.

Yo siempre corro a ponerme atrás de ellos
esperando que esa flecha
se clave en mis pasos
esperando que esa flecha
me haga una marca en el rostro
mientras me traspasa para seguir su rumbo: hacia el sur.

Corro a ponerme atrás de cada letrero deseando que la flecha
sea un arpón y mi pecho cristal,
que se divida en mil estelas,
esperando tragarme esa flecha
como un espina,
como un ancla.
Hacia donde está México: hacia adentro.


Headed South – Rossy Evelin Lima translated by Don Cellini

On the border there are signs,
an arrow that points
the direction toward Mexico: south.

I always run to put myself behind them
hoping that this arrow
fixes my steps
hoping that the arrow
will imprint itself on my forehead
while it runs on continuing its route: south.

I run to put myself behind every sign hoping that the arrow
will harpoon my crystal chest,
shattering it into a thousand trails,
hoping to swallow the arrow
like a thorn,
like an anchor.
Which direction is Mexico: within.


One of the things I admire most in a poet is their ability to make their obsessions and themes their own. Rossy Evelin Lima’s Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate makes the themes of her collection evident in the dichotomy of the title. Following suit, the poems are presented in two sections, each taking a word from the title. The “Migrare/Migrate” section is rich in variations on the theme of migration, here specifically between Mexico and the U.S., via poems that place the lyric self right into the drama of (re)defining ideas of migration.

In “Hacia el sur (Headed South),” for example, the reader is presented with the image of signs along the border whose arrows point “the direction toward Mexico: south.” The speaker then riffs on the implications of arrows. In the lines that follow, one can see how this symbol of direction is also a symbol of threat and action, especially when the speaker hopes “the arrow / will harpoon” into her chest, “shattering it into a thousand trails.” Far from being “shattered,” however, the speaker reclaims the arrow through this image of putting themselves “behind every sign” by stating “Which direction is Mexico: within.”

This conflux of images sets the poetic ambition of the collection. In reading the “signs” of her world, Lima presents the lyric self as interpreter. The image of the speaker’s chest shattering “into a thousand trails” can be seen as the urgency with which this poet writes about the costs and stakes of migration. That what the lyric self’s chest shatters into are “trails” is telling; the drive to write poems carries a purpose beyond expression. The poems in this first section point to the practical way “migrating” one’s inner world outward can help others travel within themselves. Through innovative associations (thorn/espina, anchor/ancla), the arrow becomes something singular in this poetic world.

This (re)defining of symbols and images continues in the second section, “Mutare/Mutate.” The poems in this section use the lens of mutation to lyrically evoke the way elements, animals, and other voices change and complicate themselves and the world around them. In “Agua que se rinde (Water That Surrenders),” for example, we find a speaker contemplating how:

Hasta el agua se rinde,
cierra su boca de océano, calla,
se reviste de raíces
se esconde en el centro oscuro
y se empodrece,
se torna esmeralda y carbón y desarraigo.

Even water surrenders.
It closes its ocean mouth, quiets,
searches among roots,
hides in the dark center,
and becomes putrid,
becomes emerald and coal and exile.

This travel of shape is also a travel of meaning; the lyrical ambition of this and other poems in this section is to encompass and face both the light and dark of their subjects. This lyrical ambition is also at the heart of the book’s closing poem, “Mariposa (Butterfly).” Here, the speaker departs from typical ode territory and clearly states the ambition to “conjure” all sides of a butterfly. The repetition of the line

eres la única muerte que promete alas,

you are the only death that promises wings,

does the work of conjuring. Each repetition is a dip forward, charging the poem with mortal awareness. Yet, despite the gravity of such a gesture, the poem keeps its momentum. Mid-poem, we find the speaker “living like a poet / between the canyons of the present.” This direct statement on the poetic act brings back the ambition of the book to present a specific poetic presence. This poem about a butterfly whose “death…promises wings” brings together the two words of the title, and evokes how the reading of a poem can mutate into a presence that keeps the mind and heart in motion.

Mariposa – Rossy Evelin Lima

Transparente presencia rutilante,
eres la única muerte que promete alas,
el despertar negro y naranja de la emigración,
te conjuro, en esta jaula de soles y lunas,
en esta jaula forjada con franjas azules y rojas,
eres la única muerte que promete alas,
eres la firmeza de un vuelo libertario,
mujer Monarca,
vienes cada año para llevarme contigo,
y sin saber por qué me ves cerrar los ojos y los puños.
Eres la única muerte que promete alas,
voy viviendo como poeta
entre los cañones del presente,
voy viviendo como larva
enterrándome el camino como daga,
voy soñando con el néctar de las flores
que crecen al otro lado de la frontera,
eres la única muerte que promete alas.


Butterfly – Rossy Evelin Lima translated by Don Cellini

Translucent shining presence,
you are the only death that promises wings,
the black and orange awakening of migration,
I conjure you, in this cage of suns and moons,
in this cage forged with red and blue stripes,
you are the only death that promises wings.
You are the strength of your free flight,
Monarch Woman.
You come each year to carry me with you,
and without knowing why, you see me close my eyes and fists.
You are the only death that promises wings.
I go on living like a poet
between the canyons of the present,
living like a larva
burying the road like a dagger.
I dream of the nectar of the flowers
that grow on the other side of the border.
You are the only death that promises wings.


Influence Question: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

Rossy Evelin Lima: Poetry is not an instrument but a force. In that sense, I think that in poetry, I am the poem’s purpose: I allow it to excavate, to reveal itself, layer by layer, to find in me the path towards a piece of paper.  Like Abigael Bohorquez wrote in his poem Exordio “Poesía, desembárcame, échame a tierra y léñame; como a candil de sangre, enciéndeme…”

I can’t do anything if I don’t empty myself and allow Poetry to bury me, to ignite me with purpose, I willfully accept to be a vessel Poetry can guide ashore. I am not the weaver, I am the thread and the poem is the fabric. As a result, Migrare Mutare, opened my heart to the situations I faced as an undocumented immigrant in the US, a subject I struggle to talk about because in order to talk about it I must relive it, revive it. Nonetheless, poetry condenses my emotions projecting my core to the exterior, exhuming these sentiments in a liberating pull outward.

Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing these poems and how did you work through them?

Rossy Evelin Lima: The challenge I faced when writing these poems was that all the words wanted to come out at once. The first portion of the book, “Migrare,” was written within a day. I could not stop. The words had been roaming around for quite a while, and in all honesty, I was trying to hold them back. Like in Plato’s cave, I would see the shadows of these poems dancing, but I didn’t want to reach out. In an ordinary day, I went to a coffee shop to work on my dissertation, nothing unusual. I had been working for a couple of hours when I found myself staring at a blank page in my notebook. I felt what Lorca would call, the Duende, and began with the line, “en la frontera hay letreros…” I wrote twenty-three pages that day, which were later divided into poems.

I didn’t revisit “Migrare,” until three months later, only to be taken by the same force. I had felt it coming, a very similar feeling to when you are preparing to take a very long trip. I didn’t offer any resistance this time. I noticed that the second portion of poems had much to do with water, an element I identify with, but differing from the rest, these talked about change. As if coincidences exist, a couple of days before, my mom had told me about a phone call she had with a very old friend from when we lived in Mexico. She told me, very preoccupied, that her friend said she “sounded” different. “Well, you are older, you’ve been exposed to a new language…” But no explanation would ease my mom’s mind. “What if I changed?” She asked, “We all change, we are in constant change.” I replied, as my mom looked straight at me and said “What if it really changed me?” I knew what “it” meant, and in that moment it made perfect sense: adaptation. In order to survive we adapt, most of the times unaware of the changes we have to make in order to do so. As immigrants we encounter situations that force us to change with an impact; we move, in Latin expressed by the word Migrare, and we change, expressed by the latin word Mutare. In that moment I was able to see where the poems I had written belonged.


Special thanks to Rossy Evelin Lima for participating! To find out more about Lima’s work, check out her site. Migrare Mutare ~ Migrate Mutate can be purchased from artepoética press.

rossyRossy Evelin Lima (born August 18, 1986 in Veracruz, Mexico), is an international award-winning Mexican poet and linguist. Her work has been published in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies in Spain, Italy, UK, Canada, United States, Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, and Argentina. She has been awarded the Gabriela Mistral Award by the National Hispanic Honor Society, the Premio Internazionale di Poesia Altino in Italy, the International Latino Book Award, and the Premio Orgullo Fronterizo Mexicano award by the Institute for Mexicans abroad, among many others. She is the president and founder of the Latin American Foundation for the Arts, the founder of the International Latin American Poetry Festival (FeIPoL), as well as the co-founder of Jade Publishing. In 2015 and was invited to speak at TEDxMcallen to talk about her experience as an immigrant writer in the U.S.


microreview & interview: Tina Cane’s Once More With Feeling

cane cover 2

review by José Angel Araguz

A Minor History of the East Village – Tina Cane

Maybe you knew a kid who booked through Tompkins Square on his Schwinn     and came out
the other side without the bike and in his socks     never mind he wasn’t buying drugs     this
the price of his stupidity    or maybe you went to Gem Spa three days in a row for egg creams
to flip through Interview magazine     still a stack of color Xeroxes assembled by Andy Warhol
or to The St. Mark’s Theatre to see Oh God! starring George Burns     Enough! you’d said
crouched on the seat     knees beneath your chin     rats scuttling the aisle for popcorn dregs
but it never was
not when that guy died trying to sleep in a hammock on his fire escape
off Avenue A     not when the cops found a woman’s head in a pot on her boyfriend’s stove
on Avenue B not when you and your friends mistakenly buzzed in the guys who would beat
Faye’s elderly neighbor close to death     junkies hunting jewelry or just high     they were men
you could describe     to the cops to anyone for a long time after
and when the paramedics had you
stand by the stretcher as they unjammed the brake     it wasn’t enough to want to take the woman’s
trembling hand     and it wouldn’t have been enough to take it


Reading through Once More With Feeling (Veliz Books) by Tina Cane one encounters a poetic sensibility able to write from a sense of place that is both exterior as well as interior. Place works here as both noun (NYC in the poem above) but also the verb. It is the singular way in which Cane places a poem’s attention on subjects ranging from city life to parenthood that creates a space/place for the “feeling” of the title.

In “A Minor History of the East Village,” the city is evoked as a place both mysterious and indiscriminate. From the kid who loses his bike and shoes, to the rats scuttling through the movie theatre, things keep happening at the edges where no one seems to notice or pretends not to. When the speaker says “Enough!” in the same italics as brand names and a movie title (Oh God!, fittingly), the feeling of being overwhelmed is evoked. Rather than pull away, however, the speaker is further pulled into documenting this “minor history” by the words “but it never was.” These words answer the cry of “Enough!” and act as a volta, pivoting the poem into detailing three neighborhood deaths, the last of which occurs in the speaker’s own building. Suddenly, what has been happening at the edges is happening directly in the speaker’s life. The word “enough” returns in the final lines in order to be pushed against further, and convey how the speaker is caught in a moment where every action feels futile.

The collection creates and dwells upon such places/placings of complication via other “minor history” poems, a number of lyric sequences, self portraits, and nocturnes. Throughout, we find a sensibility able to reckon with the statement made in “Nocturne: Restoration,”: “My fingerprints make residence upon the earth.” This idea that fingerprints (full of connotations of individuality as well as mortality and transience) can themselves be places is at the heart of the book. What traces (places) do we leave upon each other? How much power do we give to memory? To names? These poems take turns contemplating these questions, and seeking answers beyond them.

In the aptly named “Trip to Now,” we find the admission:

I was looking for something specific and perfect
but let’s not ruin this with words
New York you and I

This idea of words being able to establish “something specific and perfect” while at the same time being a source of “ruin” reflects a seemingly conflicted idea of poetry. Cane’s poems, however, prove there is a fruitful and compelling tension in this conflict. It is what drives a poem like “Nocturne: Ludlow Street” (below). When the speaker states that “falling in love was like being on the verge of an accident,” we are left in a place that is both the search for something perfect and the need to avoid ruin. That this meditation leads to a scene between parent and son adds to the already high stakes.

In this scene, the nuanced insights happen at the level of line breaks. Reading that the future “is a parallel universe    we are driving” all on its own line, for example, has dual implications of control and lack of control. This jolt of meaning sets up the “fingerprints” imagery of the last line. This further surprising statement from the son carries a sense of gravity to it, and drives home the dual nature of place in this collection. In poems precise in their naming but open and flexible in their observations, Once More With Feeling engages with the idea that life happens between the places we consider and the places we imagine.


Nocturne: Ludlow Street – Tina Cane

I could have stood there all night     staring at the Torah ark in your bedroom
looking for clues to the future     a disclosure     but the relic was a relic adorned
with Christmas lights in a semi-legal living space on Ludlow Street     its wisdom
not for me   falling in love was like being on the verge of an accident     I had kept
to myself for so long     often losing     in order to     falling in love was like being
shut out of ideas     a delectable trap   disclosure also often an accident
The future says our nine-year old son
is a parallel universe    we are driving
down a tree-lined street     Did they keep wood from Jesus’s cross?
he wants to know     No I say     There were fingerprints on it, I bet     he says     Yes


Influence Question: How would you say this collection reflects your idea of what poetry is/can be?

Tina Cane: I always characterize poetry as an approach rather than a genre. As such, poetry is a most flexible form and, like water, can fill any space the poet carves out. My collection, Once More With Feeling, reflects poetry as my attempt to understand the world and my experiences in it. I don’t write with any specific aesthetic or intellectual agenda. I write to understand. Having written a bunch of poems, however, does not imply that I’ve understood anything at all. And I don’t mean that in a deprecating way. I mean that writing is a path. My poems are stones I lay on my path, as I move forward.

Once More With Feeling is a book about place and love and grief and family, about glancing back while pressing on. That seems to me a most human, universal situation. The collection is grounded in particulars—NYC, neighborhoods, people—but is also me reaching out to the reader. To me, poetry is about connection—in all its incarnations.

Influence Question: What were the challenges in writing these poems and how did you work through them?

Tina Cane: This is the most explicitly autobiographical work I’ve written.  I had to work hard to balance my own sense of yearning and vulnerability with a degree of dispassion I felt was necessary to avoid lapsing into nostalgia. There’s always a risk of sentimentality when one writes about the past. While I do believe a poem should move the reader, I resent work that tries to corner me into feeling a certain way. Sometimes poems can hide their true strength behind coy and snarky humor—disguised as intellectualism. Sometimes poems over-share in a way that burdens. I was trying to negotiate between those spaces as I worked on this book. Whether or not I’ve succeeded is certainly subjective, but I wrestled for sure.

At one point, a friend and fellow poet told me he felt a presence in the collection that wasn’t on the page. It was an interesting comment–one that took on true relevance when we discussed “A Minor History of Bodega.” I came to see the “bulletproof glass” in the final line as a metaphor for something I was doing—allowing myself to be seen, but through an impenetrable veneer. Prompted by that conversation, I wrote a couple of  very spare “Self Portrait” poems in which the speaker is conflated with her mother. It was a small addition, but one that felt big to me.

Writing poems is rarely easy for me. Writing exerts itself on me.
As with life, in poetry I press on—collecting and sorting, seeing what gives.
It’s an exquisite kind of pressure to grapple with.


Special thanks to Tina Cane for participating! To find out more about Cane’s work, check out her siteOnce More With Feeling can be purchased from Veliz Books.

Tina Cane. Credit Mike Salerno jpgTina Cane is the founder and director of Writers-in-the-Schools, RI and is an instructor with the writing community, Frequency Providence. Her poems and translations have appeared in numerous publications, including The Literary Review, Two Serious Ladies, Tupelo Quarterly, Jubliat and The Common. She also produces, with Atticus Allen, the podcast, Poetry Dose.

Cane is the author of The Fifth Thought (Other Painters Press, 2008), Dear Elena: Letters for Elena Ferrante, poems with art by Esther Solondz (Skillman Avenue Press, 2016) and Once More With Feeling (Veliz Books, 2017). In 2016, Tina received the Fellowship Merit Award in Poetry from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. She currently serves as the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, where she lives with her husband and their three children. photo credit: Mike Salerno


Goodreads Book GiveawaySmall Fires by Jose Angel Araguz

Small Fires

by Jose Angel Araguz

Giveaway ends August 10, 2017.

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