Tag Archives: erasure

Ursula / an interview with poet Andrea Blythe

Ursula
Our Lady of Unrepentant Self Possession

by Andrea Blythe

You are power—
holding a draught to cure in one hand, poison
in the other. You have a talent
for practical magic, for drawing out
the latent capabilities of plants,
giving weight to whispered words.
You melt through the water, body
round and sleek, tentacles
stretching to claim
all the sea you can hold.

You never asked
to become a patron
for unfortunate souls,
those merfolk so full
of  desperation, covetous
for more love, more beauty,
more strength, more and more and more.
They beg for your gifts, then blame
you for the price they have to pay.
What can you do if they fail
to read the contract? Should you worry
for a princess so dumb
she can’t figure out
how to use ink
when she has no tongue?

In another story
a mermaid loves a prince
who has no interest in mute girls,
so she falls apart
into sea foam.

In another ending
you say fuck it
and take your seaweed slick curves
off to another tidepool.
You hang with jelly girls and laugh
with the manatee mamas.
You flirt with the walrus men, fingers stroking
the hardness of the tusk. Your tentacles
are full of caresses and you
have oceans of love to give.

First appeared in Yellow Chair Review 2016.

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Andrea Blythe bides her time waiting for the apocalypse by writing speculative poetry and fiction. She is the author of Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch (2018) and coauthor of Every Girl Becomes the Wolf (Finishing Line Press, 2018),  a collaborative chapbook written with Laura Madeline Wiseman. She is a cohost for the New Books in Poetry podcast and serves as an associate editor for Zoetic Press.

Andrea says of her style, “It’s not static. I tend toward free verse, but have worked with prose poems, erasures, and formal poetry (although that one’s rarely successful for me). I shift the style of a poem to suit the tone or voice I’m working with. The shape and voice need to reflect the content or the poem won’t feel right to me. I enjoy the variation, but it can make it hard to assemble them into any kind of cohesive collection at times.”

Andrea and Bekah connected via The 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour and both had poems appear in the same issue of Yellow Chair Review, including the above poem. We wanted to know more about Andrea and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem, “Ursula.” Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~A few years ago I participated in a 30-day poetry challenge hosted by ELJ Publications (now closed), and I used the opportunity to explore the idea of the sacred or spiritual through the framework of pop culture. I focused each poem on a female character from media I loved and addressed them as though speaking praise or prayer as though they were saints. Some of these poems honored these characters as figures of power, some as figures trapped by their iconic status, some as representations of my own personal struggles.

“Ursula” is one of the poems that came out of this challenge. I wanted to consider this woman and witch of the sea, who is considered the villain of the tale, from another angle — giving her space to be more than how she was drawn, a person enough to have desires beyond mere power.

Altogether, these poems make up a chapbook, called Pantheon, which I’m currently reworking in the hopes of sending it out and finding it a home.

Q~Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or subjects in your work? What are they and why do they resonate with you?

A~I like the idea of liminal spaces, the place in between, when someone or something is not quite one thing or another — and that’s something that comes out in my work quite a bit. For example, I wrote a poem a while back about Annie Taylor (the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel), which focuses on the act of falling, existing in that place after jumping off and touching down. There’s something about the in between, the moment right before when anything can happen that fascinates me.

Another theme that I see coming through more often lately is an expression of underlying loneliness, expressions of longing for companionship and touch. That’s coming directly out of some deep down kernel within me. I enjoy and cultivate solitude sometimes, since it can be comforting, but I have to remember not to wrap myself so tightly within it as to feel disconnected from the world and the people around me.

Q~What’s your writing process like?

A~I’m a fan of the shitty first draft as proposed by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. I’ll ponder an idea for a while and then dump it onto the page, letting it be rough and haphazard and wrong. In the first draft stage, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m trying to say, and I won’t fully know the scope of the poem or story until I have words to play with and move around. The drafting process can happen by pen and ink or by computer, but for the revision process I almost always move to hard copy — something I can mark up, cross out, ramble out gibberish in the columns, or cut into strips. The tactile aspect of working with a physical page helps me to work through what’s not working and trace a path to figuring out what will work.

 Q~Your two most recent works are a collaborative book and a collection of erasure poems. How does working with another poet or source material change your writing?

A~Working collaboratively with Laura Madeline Wiseman on our collection Every Girl Becomes the Wolf (Finishing Line Press) and other projects has strengthened my writing. During our collaboration sessions, I find there’s a tug and pull, in which I am simultaneously offering up space in a piece in order to allow Madeline’s voice into the poem while also claiming room for my own voice. Our poems are written together and then jointly edited, so that our voices become layered over each other to the point that in some completed poems, I can’t tell where her words begin and mine end. Throughout it all, I’m continually surprised by Madeline’s skill in choosing words and editing for clarity. It’s an intimate education in another person’s method of writing, which has provided me with new tools to approach my own writing.

In the act of creating erasure poetry presents an interesting restriction. Rather than the infinite possibilities of the blank page, I’m confronted with an existing text (in the case of my collection A Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch, I was working with the product descriptions in Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyers). The puzzle of striking out words to find the poem left behind stretches me into new directions — Can I siphon out a new meaning from these words? Are there enough of them to complete a particular thought? Do I need to modify the direction of the poem because the available words are steering me another way? It’s resulted in some surprising, surreal turns that I might not have taken in a standard free verse poem. It’s a kind of freedom nested within the restrictions, which can in turn empower me to explore more playfully when I approach an empty page.

 Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Advice I have to remind myself of over and over again — make space for yourself and your work. That includes time and energy for both the writing itself and the things that reinvigorate your writing, like reading, attending poetry events, walking, stretching, meditating, or anything that helps keep words alive for you. It’s so easy to get lost in the day-to-day routine of work and chores and TV binge watching and on and on — to the extent that time passes, and the work you love has been forgotten. Often my moods are influenced by how much or how little I’m connecting with my own writing. It doesn’t have to be daily, but regularly creating that space to write, to read, to interact with words is so essential.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I’m currently reading several poetry books at the moment. If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar is blowing my mind with its beauty and inventiveness regarding both lyric and form. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is so moving in how it approaches its exploration of race. And, I’m also enjoying Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar, a beautiful chapbook that explores female agency through horror tropes. 

Q~Are you involved in your local poetry scene? What’s it like?

A~The poetry scene in the Bay Area, California is amazing. There seems to be readings, slams, open mics, or other events going on just about every week, whether in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, or other towns. It’s fantastic to have this community so close at hand, and I value all the amazing creators around me, who inspire me with their words and generosity. They make me want to work harder and improve my craft.

I’ve gone through periods when I was participating or witnessing in many of these events on a minimum of a monthly basis, but lately I’ve been hermiting, tucked away in the quiet of my own home. I miss this community and camaraderie, and part of me wants to feel guilty about not being more active than I have in the past. But, I’m giving myself space to just be quiet in this way, providing support as much as I can from a distance, with the understanding that there’s no wrong way to poet, and sometimes you just need space for a while. I’ll jump back in when I’m ready.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?

A~A couple of my Pantheon poems have been published online, which can be read here: “Carrie White: Our Lady of Blood” and “Sarah Connor: Our Lady of Self Determination.” I’ve also been working on a series of found poems assembled from words in Stephen King’s The Plant, a number of which can be found at Quail Bell, including: “Morning, Wrapped in Maple and Pine,” “A Fallen Heaven,” “A Wake,” “I Have Tried to Explain,” “A Last Missive,” and “Student of More.”   Some examples of the collaborative poetry I write with Laura Madeline Wiseman can be found here. I can also be reached on Twitter and Instagram, through my email newsletter, or via my website.

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At the Landing / an interview with poet Jessica Goodfellow

At the Landing

by Jessica Goodfellow

atthelanding

First published by FIVE:2:ONE Magazine 2018.

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Jessica Goodfellow’s books are Whiteout, Mendeleev’s Mandala, and The Insomniac’s Weather Report. She was a writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. Her work has appeared in Threepenny Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Awl, The Southern Review, Motionpoems, and Best New Poets, and is forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2018.

Jessica says of her style, “My educational background is in analytical fields, and I think that shows in my poems—they tend toward the abstract, festooned with logic games and scientific and mathematical vocabulary. I’d like very much to write something with less of an obvious anchor, with more trust in the unconscious tether to the conscious mind. I try to do that—I think it’s important to try to write outside of your comfort zone—but so far, I haven’t succeeded.”

Bekah and Jessica’s work—including the visual poem above—both recently appeared in #thesideshow at FIVE:2:ONE Magazine. We wanted to know more about Jessica and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.

Q~ Tell us a little about “At the Landing.” What was the source material for this piece? What made you choose the stamps?

A~I call each erasure by the title of the short story it came from. I chose Eudora Welty’s short story collection, The Wide Net (Harcourt Brace, 1971), as my source material from the many books on my bookshelf because it has such an evocative vocabulary and also because there was a lot of space between the lines, making it easy to work with on a practical level. I have a box full of international stamps that I’ve been saving for some future project yet unconceived, and one of the erasures I worked on reminded me of a stamp I knew I had. After that I just tried putting them on different erasures, looking for stamps that were thematically relevant. I thought it was pretty unique, but I’ve since seen that Mary Ruefle has used this technique before.

Q~What appeals to you about erasure/visual poetry?

A~This is my first foray into erasure poetry. At the time I erased this piece, my mother-in-law was staying with us for end-of-life care, and I found that though I had vast swaths of free time while she slept, the need to be on-call at all times meant I couldn’t get into the writing space in my head. So, I decided to try erasure instead, and that worked really well for me, possibly because the act of erasing mimicked the experience I was having as I watched my mother-in-law dying, disappearing slowly.

Q~So sorry for your loss. Your new book, Whiteout, is also about loss. I am fascinated to hear more about the book and your experience as writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. How did that come about?

A~My most recent book is about my uncle who was a mountain climber. He died on Denali in what was, at the time, the worst mountain-climbing accident in US history. I applied to be a writer-in-resident in the park in order to finish that book. I stayed in a one-room cabin out by the Toklat River, with only my sister. We were in the park (Denali National Park and Preserve) for 10 days. Being there gave me an understanding of why my uncle was compelled to do such a dangerous thing as climb Denali. Wandering around the vast park, feeling completely alone in the wild, going places we knew he had been, was profoundly moving. We were there 49 years and one week after he was lost—watching the sun wheel around the sky instead of set in the evening, I knew he had seen that, too. For the park I wrote a series of poems as an artistic donation. They say better than I am doing now what my experience was. Here is one:

The Wandered

My sister’s drawn to clean-edged kettle ponds,
learning how to tell which pools were formed in basins
left behind by glaciers, and which weren’t.

I’m captivated by erratics, empty-house-sized
boulders stranded in a strange land by ice
that melted out from underneath them.

Erratic comes from the Latin errare,
meaning to wander, to stray, to err. We are
not wrong, my sister and I, to feel kindred—

kin and dread—with what remains after
a mammoth force, no longer visible,
has carved out such a tattered landscape.

You can read the others here: https://www.nps.gov/dena/getinvolved/air-goodfellow.htm  Only “Nine Views of Denali” is in my book, because I wanted the park to have some original work not from the book. “The Wandered” is the one I most regret not putting in the book. Kettle ponds are formed by retreating glaciers carving out grooves in the landscape, and leaving meltwater. Erratics are giant boulders that were carried along by glaciers and deposited in a location where they seem out of place–they don’t match the surroundings because they didn’t come from there–many of them may have come from a mountain. Denali National Park and Preserve is dotted with both kettle ponds and glaciers.

Q~ Is there any online resource you would recommend for anyone thinking about a project book, like Whiteout?

A~The Cloudy House is a website of interviews with poets who’ve written project books, curated by poets Cynthia Marie Hoffman and Nick Lantz. If you are interested in project books, or want to know what one is; if you are curious about how having a project affects the writing process and later the marketing; if you wonder what kind of topics end up as project books, and whether a poet starts out with a project in mind or notices one is arising later—topics such as these—the interviews here are useful and fun to read.

Q~Your poetry has received a lot of acclaim. What’s one piece of advice you want to share? 

A~Your poetry should surprise you, but it won’t much of the time. That’s okay. Just keep sitting with it until it does. It takes a long, long time to write the words that are the right words. A short poem can take months. Don’t give up, and don’t get impatient and publish something before it is truly surprising to you. Read everything aloud—the part that you want to rush through is the part that you need to keep working on. 

Q~There are lots of publications out there. What is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention? Why will we love them?

 A~Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety is a quirky journal featuring smart, unusual poetry. Even the format of the journal is quirky (see their website for examples http://www.forkliftohio.com/ ), and with a print copy comes random pieces of ephemera, such as an envelope of seeds for planting or an old key fob from a hotel. Fresh writing, a little bit askew—there is nothing like it. This journal knows what it likes and doesn’t apologize for its slightly off-kilter aesthetic. From their guidelines (known as their logistics page) come these two pieces of info (plucked from among many others): 1) “[we] Fetishize the aesthetics of early industrialized society in a distinctly post-industrial fashion;” and 2) “[we] Include, besides poetry, such diversions as recipes, agricultural wisdom, home economics lessons, and other bits of nonsense.” How are you not going to love this journal? 

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Right now, I’m rereading Natasha Sajé’s Vivarium. I love this book—it’s the right amount of cerebral for me. The poems are built around the alphabet and as with all good constraints, the alphabet fetishization inspires a certain meandering that is unexpected and mesmerizing. I’m also reading Viet Thanh Nguyen’s dark and disturbing novel, The Sympathizer, for my book club.

Q~Are you involved in your local poetry scene?

A~I live in Kobe, Japan, and there isn’t much of a poetry scene in English here (I don’t write poetry in Japanese). A couple of times a year there is a reading series event, but it’s any kind of writing in English, and more often than not it isn’t poetry. But, I attend and have been invited to read several times. I also belong to a group of poets around Japan writing in English who do a linked poem project. We each write a single stanza with given parameters and constraints, and pass it to the next poet who uses our stanza for inspiration, and that’s a lot of fun. It tends to be seasonal, in the Japanese tradition. There’s also the annual Japan Writers Conference that I attend about half the time. Mostly though, I’m on my own as a poet here.

Q~How has living abroad changed you as a writer?

A~I get asked this question often, and I have to say that I don’t particularly write about Japanese themes. Local imagery and the occasional Japanese word or phrase will show up in my poems, but I don’t specifically seek to dwell in the experience of living here—I leave that to other writers, while I tend to be interior in my work, and so only the part of Japan that penetrates my interior identity appears in my work. However, living here means a certain amount of isolation—from the poetry scene back home, from native speakers who comprehend my words without effort, from society at large here in this place where my foreignness is the most important aspect of me to nearly everyone I interact with—and that gives me more time and space to write than I imagine I would otherwise have. Also, my sense of being an outsider is heightened and continual, which I think is good for any kind of art even while it may not always be good for the private life of the individual artist.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work? 

A~I’ve linked to most of my online publications on my website. My erasures aren’t listed there, but here are journals where you can see more erasures: Star 82 Review, Thrush Poetry, Calamus, and decomP. On Facebook, I’m Jessica Goodfellow Ueno, and my Twitter handle is @jessdragonfly.

Whiteout Front Cover