microreview & interview: Love Me, Anyway by Minadora Macheret

review by José Angel Araguz

lovemeanyway

The First Time PCOS Spoke – Minadora Macheret

The doctor didn’t believe my periods had disappeared.

Most months were painless
as I watched all the other girls clutch cramps and bloating—
I wanted that too. I was different enough
and every 28 days I begged my uterus.

Medicine wrestles pubescent girls into journal articles
amenorrhea is due to over activity (at this age).

Please gentle the body—
thicken it with sleep.
When you slow down,
you will be
a woman,
again.

*

Reading through the poems of Love Me, Anyway (Porkbelly Press) by Minadora Macheret, one encounters a poetic sensibility capable of exploring the intersection of disability and being a woman in ways that interrogate the misguided narratives around both. The first line of the poem above (“The doctor didn’t believe my periods had disappeared”) begins this work within the context of disbelief. Here, it is disbelief not only of what is stated, but also an implied doubt due to youth and gender. The poem then builds from this initial disbelief by adding to it the speaker’s own disbelief in the workings of her body. The difference between these two disbeliefs is stark: the doctor’s disbelief is authoritative, while the speaker’s is grounded in vulnerability and fear. This starkness is furthered by the third stanza, where the medically-informed disbelief is seen as “[wrestling] pubescent girls into journal articles,” phrasing that evokes what it feels like to have a personal experience reduced to objective terms and analysis.

By the final stanza, the turn to the language of prayer (“Please gentle the body— / thicken it with sleep”) is a surprise on several levels. First, authority is subverted and, while still distant, it works now in a different tone, a tone that reads first as “gentle” but proves itself controlling by the end. Secondly, this subversion exposes the condescension and harm of the doctor’s disbelief; their authoritative advice is prescriptive in both a medical sense but also in a sense charged by gender bias. In a way, this last stanza could be read as a command to the speaker, a woman, to “slow down.” Lastly, returning to the title, these last lines can also be read as PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) itself addressing the speaker. Because it echoes the medical authority in tone and advice, this address becomes a betrayal charged with vulnerability.

This engagement with disbelief through lyric (re)imagination is at the heart of Love Me, Anyway. The PCOS experience is shown as a human experience that affects both a woman’s body and identity. Throughout the poems, Macheret evokes the struggle of identity through poetic acts of (re)definition. In “Remembering Girlhood,” the speaker reckons with the identity-shaping effects of the schoolyard:

…I am other Watch the girls point inside themselves to understand the outside of me Listen to their words mouth traitor…She can’t be a woman there is no moon inside of her to wax and wane Follow the porcupine quills on her face and breasts She is of men not of women Turn away turn away turn away

What is compelling here is how the context of the schoolyard is subverted by, first, being informed by the disbelief of other children, and, second, by how this disbelief is channeled through a formal, high diction. Phrasing like “there is no moon inside of her to wax and wane” and “She is of men not of women” is charged with a severity that drives home the damning effect childhood bullying has.

In “To the Bearded Lady I Am (Age 26),” the speaker begins by sharing:

I spend my days mirror-bound. Farm the angles of my face with tweezers. Lately, I can afford laser treatment. Each pulse of light burns hair follicle clusters.

Here, we have the clarity and directness found in other poems, metaphor being used to set the scene. The poem develops to these ending lines:

The anxiety of hair growth strangles my days to slip into nights. I’m like a teacup left out, dust covered, a chip in my side.

The clarity of the opening lines grounds the poem in the speaker’s reality; coming to these closing lines, metaphor works in a different, richer way by showing a further depth to the speaker’s reality. Not only is anxiety acknowledged as part of the self-conscious act depicted, but there is the effect on identity. In seeing herself as a “teacup left out, dust covered, a chip in my side,” the speaker evokes ideas of beauty and purpose as well as neglect. A disease’s ability to make one feel “other” (as noted above) is presented here in literal object-ification. These lines are another example of how working past otherness and imposed narratives comes at the cost of a shifting sense of self.

In this last poem, the idea of disbelief—both that of others and one’s own—is answered by a clear reckoning and acknowledgment. Disbelief, by being present, implies the possibility of belief. The poems of Love Me, Anyway argue, ultimately, that sometimes all one has to believe in is one’s own experiences, one’s pain and survival. These poems embody one of the gifts of lyric poetry, specifically the ability to evoke struggle and the life found through it.

In the title poem (below), this idea is worked out as a hard-earned belief. (Re)definition appears again in the opening lines—“Settle into my skin, / show of nature gone awry,”—but is accompanied by conscious (re)action “make-believe the parts are working.” The poem continues through admission, creating from honest acknowledgment a lyric space where the speaker is able to fully voice and feel, and, thus, fully exist.

Love Me, Anyway – Minadora Macheret

Settle into my skin,
show of nature gone awry,
make-believe the parts are working.

There will be days
anger currents keep me upright
as anxiety locks me to the bed
and the safari of my skin
full of brush
stains the covers fluorescent-red

the Nile is deep and endless
as the mechanism syncs
to the monthly flood-watch.

And on the mornings
I am barren
for a day more than I can handle,
please love me, anyway.

*

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

Minadora Macheret: This collection reflects what I see poetry can do and/or can be because it is giving voice to invisibility, to disability, to the liminal spaces that make us more human than we care to admit. Through the manipulation of white space and use of lyric images to guide a narrative that is searching to understand itself, this collection allows for the reader to gain an emotional glimpse into a body haunted by grief, by disease, by an inability to function “normally.” Also, there is the blending of language/translation, of culture, of folklore/myth (Baba Yaga & Demeter make appearances), and how those elements of identity also play a foundational role into understanding the body and how to recreate the self and the stories told on the page. Most importantly, this collection is another avenue for political poetry and social justice because it is asking the reader to see how the patient is gazing back at the doctor, the clinic, the world they inhabit, especially as it considers the disabled body, the diseased body, the female body. Poetry also has the capacity to breathe new meaning and understanding into the undefinable and this collection is pushing against the ways in which doctors engage the female body and struggle to offer support and/or treatment for diseases they think they understand.

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

Minadora Macheret: Some of the challenges in writing these poems came through translation. What I mean by that is not just the translation of disease from scientific literature to something accessible, but in the actual act of thinking in Russian (my first language) to writing it in English. Because I think multilingually (and grew up in a household of polyglots) I struggle with translation at times and though poetry has the capacity to hold a multiplicity of languages and their conversions/inversions, I would need to have trusted friends look at the syntax and/or grammar at times of what I was saying for clarification. Another challenge was how to talk about a disease that is terrifying, that disintegrates the body from the inside out without just glamorizing it or making the disease beautiful. I worked very intentionally with balancing between the horrific/grotesque with lyrical images or use of musicality/sound to show the duality of disease and its affect on the body. In particular, I am thinking of my “Self-Portrait as Mythos” poem that is using beautiful language and imagery to show the realities of a disease that causes infertility among a host of other issues. Lastly, something I struggled with is how to balance the grief in the collection without ending on something inspirational. I tend to turn away from the inspirational because I wanted to show the lived every day experiences that many people go through as grief/disease/disabiltiy becomes a facet of their lives. One way that I dealt with this is to not shy away from (my) truth of the experience and to let myself sit in those images/experiences as they were.

*

Special thanks to Minadora Macheret for participating! To learn more about Macheret’s work, check out this interview with her at Rogue Agent Journal! Copies of Love Me, Anyway can be purchased from Porkbelly Press.

m macheret*

Minadora Macheret is a Ph.D. student and Teaching Fellow at the University of North Texas. She is a Poetry Editor for Devilfish Review. Her work has appeared in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Red Paint Hill, Rogue Agent, Connotation Press, and elsewhere. She is the author of the chapbook, Love Me Anyway, from Porkbelly Press, 2018. She likes to travel across the country with her beagle, Aki.

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writing prompt: Stafford’s four elements of daily writing practice

For this week’s writing prompt, I’m revisiting my time presenting at and attending the Oregon Poetry Association conference in September. While I have devised mine own daily writing habits over the years, it was at this conference where I learned the practices of one of my go to poets, William Stafford.

Stafford’s son, Kim Stafford, was this year’s keynote speaker, and along with some compelling insights into his current poetic life, he shared with us his father’s daily writing practice. From my notes, here’s how he broke it down:

Four Elements of Daily Writing Practice

1. Write the date. Kim Stafford said this was simple enough, then quoted his father: “Once I write the date, I know I’m okay. “

2. Write a paragraph of boring prose. Stafford said this could be in the realm of “Dear diary…” language, straightforward observations from everyday life. He also framed this step as “writing before you have to write well.”

3. Write an aphorism. This step involves writing a one sentence observation on life or idea. Doing this also involves stepping back and seeing a pattern in your “boring prose.” In practice, if step 2 feels like boarding a plane, checking the luggage, etc., then this step is like taxiing on the runway.

4. Write whatever comes next, a poem, a story, etc. Having been warmed up by the previous steps, you’re ready to take flight.

While William Stafford himself was famous for his daily writing habits, seen with a kind of awe, he was also the first to point out that it was a humbling habit. I can verify that writing every day doesn’t necessarily lead to gold; more often, you have scratches and inklings. But, for me, it’s all about the attention to language, being able to stay close to the heat behind turns of phrase and word choice – that’s the value of daily writing.

However you choose to get into this process, be sure to make it your own. If not daily, weekly even. What matters is you and your words.

Here’s a blog post by Kim Stafford where he elucidates on the process further.

OPA freewriteBelow is my own first attempt at Stafford’s practice. Because this first attempt was written at the conference itself, my boring prose is short. As for the poem, I did what I often do, which is pick a number of words per line as a structural guide (here, it’s 4 words per line). I had in mind two new friends of mine that I had just met at the conference.

Let me know if you end up trying your hand at this practice. Would love to hear from y’all! [ thefridayinfluence@gmail.com ]

Daily Writing freewrite – José Angel Araguz

  1. 09/29/2018
  2. I have driven to Eugene to present and be uncomfortable it seems.
  3. Poets don’t ask for credentials, not the real ones, they ask to hear about the work we share.
  4. (Poem):

Meeting a poet after
walking and not speaking,
not making eye contact,
not knowing what I
matter to or what’s
a matter with me,
we begin to talk
of language in language
we’re fond of; there’s
others walking around us
but the words between
us, who has placed
these words between us?

one more from José Olivarez

olivarezIn my recent microreview & interview of José Olivarez’s Citizen Illegal (Haymarket Books), I noted some of the ways the collection interrogates the multiple dualities of the Latinx, specifically Mexican-American, experience. Through word play and rhetorical moves, Olivarez uses his gift of speaking about narratives that often get neglected to present the nuances of language as well as life.

In “My Parents Fold Like Luggage” (below), the speaker is in story mode, presenting a fabulistic interpretation of his parents crossing over the U.S.-Mexico border. It is a narrative of risk as much as deception; these two sources of tension are presented through the speaker’s point of view through the metaphor of folding. Informed by memory, distance, and imagination, this folding turns out some rich moments of language:

my parents protect this moment. this now.
what folds them into the trunk of a Tercel.
the belief that the folding will end.

it doesn’t. dollars fold into bills. my parents
near breaking. broke.

Here, human breaking is folded into financial breaking. So much is riding on this fraught vulnerability, both in the moment and in the larger picture. The distinct punctuation and use of variations on “break” do a great job of evoking what is at stake. One finds a similar turn in the poem’s ending:

from the sky, it is impossible
to hear whether my parents cheer or pray
as the car steals north.

The key word here is “steals,” a word that nods toward the risk and deception of the narrative. Yet it’s the context, “from the sky,” that renders this ending heartbreaking. Not being able to “hear” from the distance of memory creates an engaging ambiguity. In not knowing if they “cheer or pray,” the poem allows those words to live side by side in the poem and moment.

My Parents Fold Like Luggage – José Olivarez

my parents fold like luggage
into the trunk of a Toyota Tercel.
stars glitter against a black sky.
from the sky, the Tercel is a small lady

bug traveling north. from the sky,
borders do not exist. the Tercel stops
in front of a man in green. stars glitter
like broken glass. the night so heavy

it chokes. in the trunk, it is starless.
my parents protect this moment. this now.
what folds them into the trunk of a Tercel.
the belief that the folding will end.

it doesn’t. dollars fold into bills. my parents
near breaking. broke. they protect what might
unfold them to discover they are six:
a family.  if the man in green opens the trunk,

the road folds back. this moment & everything
that follows disappears into the ink of a police report.
why doesn’t he open the trunk? my parents say
god blessed us. maybe they are right,

but i think about that night & wonder where
god was—a million miles away in the stars,
in the shared breath between my parents, maybe
everywhere. maybe nowhere. from the sky,

the man in green is so small it is impossible
to see him wave. from the sky, it is impossible
to hear whether my parents cheer or pray
as the car steals north.

*

To learn about José Olivarez’s work, check out his site.

one more from Valerie Wallace

In my recent microreview & interview of House of McQueen (Four Way Books) by Valerie Wallace, I note how Wallace’s interrogation of the observable and imaginative aspects of Alexander McQueen’s work, and how the two suggest and influence each other, makes for compelling lyric meditations. Furthermore, there is a parallel conversation between the observable and imaginative occurring in the collection on the level of craft, as Wallace writes into and opens up McQueen’s world for her readers through ekphrasis, collage, and other formal poetic moves.

wallaceThe poem below – “Haute Couture” – is a good example of the formal conversation that underlies House of McQueen. This poem takes on the acrostic form by taking a quote from McQueen himself – “At the end of the day they’re only clothes” – and placing each word of it as the first word of each line. This form suits the overall vision of House of McQueen in a number of ways. First, by the very nature of the acrostic form, we have McQueen’s voice embedded in the body of the poem however indirectly. Also, that the quote itself can be read vertically while Wallace’s poem can be read horizontally echoes the way Wallace “reads” into McQueen’s work both here and throughout her collection.

House of McQueen is an inspiring book for the risks and routes it takes into the possibilities inherent in language and visual art. Because our lives are dually complex and private, we end up learning about each other as we learn from words; that is, by conjecturing and connecting with what is around in the life of a person. The acrostic form here does just that: By playing off of McQueen’s actual statement and presenting Wallace’s own lyrical flight, what is conjured in the act of the poem is a poetic space that is part McQueen, part Wallace. In short, the form is itself a visual representation of the observable and imaginative elements at work in Wallace’s collection.

Haute Couture – Valerie Wallace

Alexander McQueen acrostic

At the first, a promise to share the fireflies in your brain with
the crickets in my brain, gift the heart-shaped apricot at my
end for your bunspark unpuckered, your stalk of young maple in the gorge
of the river you brought with you. Reach your hand in this fashion.
The discovery of how to really bite dark cherries. Swollen bordercall into me into yourself
day in day out. Arm :: swan :: fumble :: ruddle :: winker :: fist :: throttle into the unforgiving current gathering stones.
They’re spun from their beds and they are comprehended. I know you are
only, no matter how we relish this thing we do. Look at us, our radiant cooling. Relinquish your
clothes. I’ll cut you mine.

*

to learn about Valerie Wallace’s work, visit her site.

writing prompt: shape tracing

This week I’m introducing a new type of post focused on writing prompts! These will come in part out of my teaching background and will also be informed by work I’m currently exploring.

This week’s poem, “have I mattered to my / phone…” in particular involves a visual component that doesn’t travel well to Instagram. For those of you following my poetryamano project, you know the writing I post there tends to be short, brief lyrics. The poem below is longer and engages with shape in an integral way so that even breaking it up into pieces across photographs wouldn’t work.

The prompt: Draw a shape on your page and then proceed to write a poem inside it. Don’t worry about line breaks, rather, focus on filling the shape with narrative, image, and whatever else pops up while writing. The kicker is that you’re limited to the shape you’ve drawn.

A variation on this prompt – and one that I follow in my poem below – is to trace out the shape of an object and then write about the object. What I did was trace the outline of my cell phone. It ended up looking like a crude soap bar, probably because of the protective case it’s in, but the shape worked for the exercise nonetheless. I then focused on the phrasing that came immediately to mind.

The world of phones these days is stigmatized in ways that are unfair to artists and people who do everything from conduct business to engage the world through apps that make their lives more accessible. With these thoughts in mind, the idea of mattering seemed like an apt thing to invoke. I have transcribed the poem below the photograph in case my handwriting is hard to read.

Let me know if you try your hand at this. As always, the Influence is open for submissions. Enjoy!

2018-10-25 16.26.34

“have I mattered to my / phone…” – José Angel Araguz

have I mattered to my
phone to where my fingers
swipe where my print has
slicked swirled been
singled out and suddenly
swept away have I mattered
to the oil and grease at
the side of my thumb the
flab of index the edge of
each fingernail have I
mattered to this space where
words appear under my
skin words flicker under
my pulse have I mattered
without metered thought
measured instead in mine
own mouth and malleability
have I mattered in matter

*

Happy shaping!

José

Selena poems!

Selena_Quintanilla_statue_Mirador_de_la_florThis week I thought I would celebrate the publication of another one of my Selena poems in the latest issue of Crab Orchard Review by sharing the first Selena poem I wrote.

The poem “The Things to Fight Against” (below) can be found in my second full length poetry collection, Small Fires (FutureCycle Press), and was originally published in Switchgrass Review. In this poem, I braid together a bit of my own personal mythology with the late singer’s tragic death, our two narratives meeting across our respective bilingualism and lives in Corpus Christi, Texas. This poem is also an example of me working in syllabics.

Araguz author photo 3
old photo – parallel pose unintentional

My new poem, “Selena: a study of recurrence/worry,” is a pantoum and goes further into the impact of her life and death upon not only my own life but of those I hold dear in my hometown.

Be sure to check out my other poems in COR “St Peter to Joseph” and “Sentence” along with work by other stellar writers in this issue. Special thanks to editors Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble as well as everyone at COR who helped make this new issue possible!

*

The Things to Fight Against – José Angel Araguz

for Selena

Onstage, mouth brimming with the Spanish
parents teased her with, maybe she looked
down and saw the cowboy hats, the boots
and belt buckles, the purses, curls,
and children, maybe she saw herself,

thought: Of all the things to fight against,
sound’s not one of them – sound of applause,
sound of gritos, sound of sparked cuetes,
sound of beer cans gasping open,
sound of busses turning in the dark,

groaning in dreams, sound of R’s rolling,
sound of birdwing flutter, sound of wind
over open water, sound of flags
unfurling, sound of flame flaring
up and out of a struck match, sound of

a voice, my own Spanish unsure, chopped,
shaky, sound of a bullet breaking
through the air, sound of a newspaper
splayed on the wind, the news floating,
punched with the grace of long hair – her hair

now a cold blade of bronze, her statue
along the sea wall, to see her is
to see the tide forever turning,
pulled and pulling away, is to
think again of her killer, crying

in her car in a stand-off, gripping
the gun which would later be broken
to pieces and thrown into the same
waters the statue looks over,
is to hear my aunt again call us

a city of crabs in a bucket,
each of us clambering to get out
has another behind them – their face
similar, a face we’ve grown with
and understand – dragging them back down.

 

disbelief y Concha Méndez

In my fascination with the short lyric, one of the variations I enjoy are poems that work like door hinges into an emotion. These poems walk the fine line of narrative and abstract language, and take on risks in order to create an emotional impression.

This week’s poem – “No es aire lo que respiro…” by Concha Méndez – is a good example of what I mean. In typical short lyric fashion, the poem is carried by a personal tone that evokes intimacy. From there, the voice delves into metaphoric language, developing a narrative of air-turned-ice, ground that opens, and eyes that see an ever-darkening world. The poem ends on lines of sorrow and disbelief.

dawnDespite the bleak turns in a small amount of lines, this poem is one of hope in the way that poetry writing in general implies hope. Here, in ten lines, is the presence and direct statement of one’s feelings. Also, there’s the sense of one reporting from an inner landscape in language whose ambiguity leaves what poet D. M. Garrison calls “dreaming room,” that is, a space for a reader to dwell on what the words bring up for them. In the light of recent events in the news, including climate change reports and the Kavanaugh confirmation, we have been given many reasons to “look at the world” and “not want to believe.”

In my translation, I worked towards having the words do the “hinge” work I spoke of earlier, and downplaying some of the cadence in the original Spanish that doesn’t exactly carry over into English. My goal was to drum up some of the tension and air of dwelling in Méndez’s original. Enjoy!

No es aire lo que respiro… — Concha Méndez

No es aire lo que respiro,
que es hielo que me está helando
la sangre de mis sentidos.
Tierra que piso se me abre.
Cuanto miro se oscurece.
Mis ojos se abren al llanto
ya cuando el día amanece.

Y antes del amanecer,
abiertos miran al mundo
y no lo quieren creer…

*

It’s not air that I breathe … — by Concha Méndez
English translation by José Angel Araguz

It’s not air that I breathe,
that is ice freezing
the blood of my senses.
The ground I tread opens for me.
Wherever I look darkens.
My eyes open, weeping
already when the day dawns.

And before dawn,
they look at the world
and do not want to believe…