Tag Archives: lyrical

The Pinko Commie Dyke Kills / an interview with poet Julie R. Enszer

The Pinko Commie Dyke Kills

by Julie R. Enszer

babies on street corners
with the steel speculum
she has been carrying
since she was nineteen
and gazing at her cervix
with a group of women

now with the Kumbaya of
body exploration passed
abortion docs in demand
commanding high fees
for a simple D & C
so the pinko commie dyke
helps women dilate and
evacuate their own uteri
as women have for ages
with herbs or pebbles or poultices

a thin metal line
pierces the endometrium
like rupturing the yolk
of an egg menses slither
through the cervix
down the uterine wall
sloughing that baby
into the toilet
creating a vast empty space
in the womb where
the woman now child-free
can move in
kick back
have a cocktail
and enjoy herself

The pinko commie dyke takes one life
and gives another in return

First published by Impossible Archetype 2018.

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Photo Credit: Steffan Declue.

Julie R. Enszer, PhD, is a scholar and a poet. Her book manuscript, A Fine Bind, is a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 until 2009. Her scholarly work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southern Cultures, Journal of Lesbian Studies, American Periodicals, WSQ, and Frontiers. She is the author of four poetry collections, Avowed (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016), Lilith’s Demons (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2015), Sisterhood (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013) and Handmade Love (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2010). She is editor of The Complete Works of Pat Parker (Sinister Wisdom/A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2016), which won the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry and Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2011), which was a finalist for the 2012 Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. She has her MFA and PhD from the University of Maryland. Enszer edits and publishes Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal, and is a regular book reviewer for The Rumpus and Calyx.

Of her style, Julie says, “I generally describe myself as a narrative, lyrical poet. My poetry explores the lyric moment with an important investment in narrative and storytelling. I admire formal poetry enormously and at some points in my work, I feel the influence of the sonnet keenly. Recently, for a new project, I have been reading more experimental work and admiring that work anew, particularly how poets invest in challenging language and breaking it to remake it.”

Julie gave Bekah her first poetry acceptance back in 2012 when she chose Bekah’s poem, “Stuck in a Web,” for issue 87 of Sinister Wisdom, a tribute to Adrienne Rich. Here is our interview with Julie.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’ve included with your interview. Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~I’ve selected a poem from a more recent collection of work that has obsessed me for the past year. The character of the pinko commie dyke, who is sometimes me and other times other women walking through the world, has been speaking to me in a series of poems that muse on contemporary life and the issues and ideas that are important in the world today. In some ways, I think that this series is representative of my work, which is invested in lyricism and also narrative. I also am interested in personae and exploring where the lyrical ‘I’ overlaps with the poet and where it does not. The disjuncture between the lyrical ‘I’ and the poet fascinate me much more today than they did ten years ago.

Q~You’ve published several books of poetry, but you seem to be focused more recently on your academic writing and have a book forthcoming about lesbian-feminist publishing, Can you tell us more about that project? Also, how do you think this work has or will influence your own poetry?

A~Great question. I finished my MFA in 2008 and from that work, I had a lot of poetry that took shape in Handmade Love, Sisterhood and Avowed, three of my full-length collections. Immediately after my MFA, I entered a PhD program in Women’s Studies, and the research and work into lesbian-feminist publishing came as a part of that degree, which I finished in 2013.

My work now is immersed in both poetry and the scholarly work. I am working very hard to finish the history of lesbian-feminist publishing (and am getting closer!). This book tells stories about lesbian-feminist publishing and how it both inspired and energized a variety of lesbian-feminist poets and what function that publishing work has in relationship to the broader formations of feminism. There are so many rich stories of women publishing amazing work and reaching readers with that work that I hope to do justice to them all!

Throughout my PhD research and writing, I have been writing poems. I am working on a new collection of poetry and have a chapbook coming out sometime this year with a new selection of poems about the “Pinko Commie Dyke.” Some of these poems have been published here and here.

While readers tend to think in terms of genre, as a writer and a thinker, I find that the scholarly work, the editing work, the essay writing work, and the poetry work all blend together and feed one another.

Q~It meant so much to Bekah to be included in the Adrienne Rich tribute issue of Sinister Wisdom. Can you tell us more about putting that issue together, and also feel free to speak more broadly on Rich’s influence?

A~I remember so clearly learning that Adrienne Rich had died and feeling an immense sense of loss as a reader and writer of her presence in the world—of loss in the future of the books that she might write and of loss of her persistent moral presence in our world. It took a few days of processing that loss to recognize that it was important for Sinister Wisdom to mark her life and her contributions to the journal in a meaningful way and the issue grew from that impulse.

It turned out to be a beautiful issue, that now has sadly sold out. Rich’s work and influence continues to be palpable for me in the daily work of Sinister Wisdom, which carries on some of her vision and commitments in the world. I’ve been reveling in the new volumes of her work coming out from W. W. Norton that allow us to revisit her work in new bindings and new arrangements with new people exploring how she inspired and influenced them.

Rich demanded an intellectual rigor and a moral rigor in her work, at least in my reading of it. I am interested in holding to her demands of herself and of others around her in my own work.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~There were many first loves. As a youngster and even today, I read voraciously. When I was a teenager, I loved the journals and the poems of May Sarton. As a young reader in college I discovered Rich, Mary Oliver (this was many years before she came out, acknowledging her long-term relationship with Molly Malone Cook), Audre Lorde, Marilyn Hacker, Pat Parker, Elizabeth Bishop, and Muriel Rukeyser. All of these poets loom large in my mind and in my early reading years.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I still wait eagerly for new collections from Marilyn Hacker, Maureen McLane, Alicia Ostriker, among others. Recently, I’ve been reading the new collection by Eileen Myles, first collections by Jenny Johnson, Alicia Mountain, and Jenny George. Nickole Brown’s new chapbook, To Those Who Were Our First Gods, made me weep with joy and empathy and pain and all of the feelings that poetry raises. I’ve also been reading new work by Dawn Martin Lundy and Duriel Harris and appreciating the work they do in the world.

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

 A~I try to update my personal website regularly. For information about the journal I edit, visit www.SinisterWisdom.org. My critical writing appears in a variety of places, particularly The Rumpus and Lambda Literary. You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

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Bimbo, a Deer Story / an interview with poet Risa Denenberg

Bimbo, a Deer Story

by Risa Denenberg

For she had no body odor and lay motionless
beside the dead doe, and so
you took her home and fed her goat’s milk.

This you did: collared and tethered her, named her
Bimbo, a pet wandering a yard strewn with cars
on blocks and old oil tanks.

Your darling: adopted, broken, stroked, chosen.
And who am I, trussed and bound to a fault line,
who shadowed not her own mother, nor knows
how she is meant to be.

originally published in Menacing Hedge 2014.

risa (2)

Risa Denenberg is a working nurse practitioner and poet with 6 published poetry collections. She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press, a small independent publisher of poetry by lesbians. Her most recent collection is slight faith, just released from MoonPath Press.

Of her style, Risa says, “I write mostly free verse, a combination of lyrical and narrative, with attention to poetic devises such as assonance, alliteration, enjambment, repetition, lists, and anaphora. I have tried my hand at some forms such as sonnets, haiku, and villanelles. I often write poems using equal lined stanzas that hold a shape, but also abstractly-shaped poems with very different line lengths. I also write prose poems. I try to query the poem to see what shape it wants to be.”

Risa and Bekah connected via The 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour. We wanted to know more about her and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem, “Bimbo, a Deer Story.” Is there a back story you want to share?

A~It was originally published in Menacing Hedge and is included in slight faith.  It came to me after reading a news item that described an eccentric woman who had found a fawn beside her dead mother and took her into her home, treating her like a child. The details (feeding her goat’s milk, naming her Bimbo, etc.) are directly from the news story. It made me realize that any sentient creature, taken out of her natural environment, would probably never become who she was meant to be. I identified with that concept, not because I was adopted, but because I often wonder who I was meant to be. The poem hints at a troubled relationship between the narrator and her mother, but prefers to leave much to the reader’s imagination. I think the poem is similar to others of my poems in that it has a certain restraint, rather than being “in your face,” it shows (rather than describing) emotions, and hints of darkness without specificity.

Q~How is the poem representative of your new collection?

A~slight faith is a collection of poems that consider ways of creating and finding meaning, ways of seeing the world in all its horror and still wanting to live. The story that my poem, “Bimbo: a Deer Story,” is based on looks to the natural world (a dead doe, the fawn helpless at her corpse) and positions the fawn in an unnatural environment (a woman’s home). The story is simultaneously heartwarming and anomalous. In the poem, the narrator tries to understand who she is under the circumstances she has been dealt. She looks for meaning, which I believe has its core in faith. Many of us who are not drenched in religious life have difficulty talking about concepts like faith, and yet these tropes are found everywhere in art. I’ve learned “god language” through my work in end-of-life care, as a way of connecting with people who speak it. My own experience of faith vacillates between feeling authentic (faithful) and feeling hopeless (faithless). At core, faith says there is meaning. I lose and recover meaning all the time. slight faith is a way of finding peace in that dilemma.

Q~You mentioned your work in end-of-life care, how much does your “day job” influence your writing?

A~There is no doubt that my years as a nurse, witnessing illness, suffering and death, has been a bedrock of my need to write. It has also given me experiences to write about, as I have done in my chapbooks What We Owe Each Other and In My Exam Room (both published by The Lives You Touch Publications). When life seems suffused with sadness, despair and even alienation, poetry carves out a place for these difficult emotions in the world.

Q~How do you balance your work at Headmistress Press with focusing on your own writing?

A~It can be difficult. I not only spend many hours a week running Headmistress Press with Mary Meriam, I also work full time and volunteer with End of Life Washington, the advocacy group for Washington State’s Death With Dignity Law. Being an introvert and living alone helps me to carve out time for writing. I try to write first thing in the morning before other things clamor for my attention. I also go on retreats two or three times a year where I focus exclusively on a writing project.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~I write in spurts, sometimes daily, but sometimes not at all for weeks. I typically start with jumbled thoughts/emotions, unformatted, like journaling. I usually let it sit, but if there is a spark of truth there, later I might interrogate the writing by asking: what is it I am trying to say here? My goal in shaping and revising a poem is to strip away any words or codicils that feel false or so private that they are unlikely to speak in any viable way to a reader, and then to locate specificity of language by inviting the lines and stanzas to dialog. I read the work out loud to see if it has rhythm or musicality. Typically, writing poems is my attempt at meaningful conversations with myself, that I deeply hope will communicate meaningfully to someone out there.

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

 A~Just write the poems. Let the rest take care of itself. Support other poets; buy their books; attend readings and poetry events. Read as much poetry as you can, and learn how to read your own poems aloud.

Q~When you say, “learn how to read your own poems aloud,” do you mean as part of the writing process or were you talking about poetry readings?

 A~Poetry is about the sounds of words. When I’m reading others’ poems, if a poem excites me, I will often stand up and read it aloud. When I’m writing, I stop and read a stanza or a line aloud many times as I am revising and working on the poem. I don’t enjoy it until it “sounds” right. What I was referring to as advice, however, is that any poet who has the opportunity to read their work for others should, first of all, do it (!), and second, rehearse reading the poems aloud many times. A reading opportunity usually comes with some sort of time limitation, so it’s also very important to time the reading. Misusing the gift of time is very poor manners. Finally, with practice and deep familiarity with the words, I think most poets could give a convincing, strong reading. Personally, although I’m an introvert, I totally love reading my work for an audience.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~When I was nine, I had pneumonia and had to stay home alone for several weeks, since my parents both worked. I had Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse with me in bed, and it was a wonderful comfort to read poems about children that felt like they could have been about me (when I was sick and lay abed, I had two pillows at my head). I also have to credit reading the Hebrew Psalms and connecting with their deep sorrow, lamentation, and longing. In high school, I fell in love with Emily Dickinson, started reading the beat poets, and was introduced to Sylvia Plath and the confessional poets. I greatly expanded my reading list after high school, but these introductory poets were very formative in my love of poetry.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I have been gob smacked by so many contemporary poets, and in particular, LGBTQ poets. I have bought so many books of poetry in the past year that I fear I’ll never find time to read them all. Lesbian feminists held sway with me in previous decades (Rich, Lorde, Jordan, Cheryl Clarke, Marilyn Hacker, Pat Parker, so many others), but lately the gay boys have really knocked me off my feet. I only have room here to name a few: Mark Doty; Danez Smith, Philip B Williams, Jericho Brown, Richard Silken, Saeed Jones, Carl Philips, Spencer Reece; Ocean Vuong. I must say that I also adore Natalie Diaz, Sharon Olds, Ilya Kaminsky, and Greg Pardlo.

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

A~My books are available on Amazon or at my website. I also have a blog, and you connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Sin É / An interview with poet Jayne Stanton

Sin É

by Jayne Stanton

We steam on barstools
read between slogans on a plastered ceiling
tune to the cuts and grace notes in banter
binge on ambience, high on E minor.

Coburg Street, past midnight, soaks
in sodium light.  Rain beats time
on bodhran umbrellas, my spine
a river of running quavers that stick
to the soles of my sensible shoes
so I high-step the home stretch.

Framed in doorways on Wellington Road
crinoline ghosts wear mirrored skirts
that flirt with moonlight.
Guest house stairs are in rising fifths.
My top floor room’s a tall ship, exploring
the lilt in the Lee’s liquid fingers.

First appeared in Southword 2013. (Highly Commended in the 2013 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Competition.)

Jayne Stanton

Jayne Stanton lives in Leicestershire, UK.  Her poems have appeared in various print and online magazines and anthologies including Best British & Irish Poets 2017 (Eyewear Publishing).  She has written commissions for a county museum, University of Leicester’s Centre for New Writing and a city residency.  A pamphlet, Beyond the Tune, is published by Soundswrite Press (2014).

“Lyrical free verse best describes my style,” Jayne says. “ I’m also a musician, so I’m continually striving for musicality in my writing.  It’s what I instinctively tune into at poetry readings; my default, when reading silently, is to sub-vocalise.  I tend to favour brevity over narrative; my work often has a dark under-layer.”

Jayne and Bekah connected via The 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour. We wanted to know more about her and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little aboutSin É.”  Is there a back story you want to share?

A~The inspiration for the poem was a traditional music session in a bar in Cork, Ireland (I was on a poetry exchange as part of O’Bheal’s Twin Cities project, at the time).  As a fiddle player in a ceilidh band I’m more accustomed to performing than being on the receiving end, so the experience was a change to my usual perspective.

Q~Did it come easily to you or was it hard to write?

 A~The first draft of this poem was written around five months later.  I think the time lapse was beneficial in that it allowed the experience to percolate until the rain, the city streets, and my accommodation overlooking the river also took on a musicality of their own.  There were fewer re-drafts than usual so, although the poem didn’t write itself, it wasn’t an arduous process. The poem was Highly Commended in the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Competition, 2013, and published online in Southword issue 23A.  The poem, together with the judge’s comment and my report on O’Bheal’s Twin Cities project can be found here.

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

A~Writing is a solitary act, but it’s equally important to actively seek, and maintain, an outward focus in order to inspire and inform one’s writing.  Connect with other writers, both face-to-face and online (it’s never been easier); be an active participant in your local writing scene; attend writing workshops, poetry readings, literary events, festivals; support the work of others (it’s not a one-way street); live life (it’s the richest writing material I know).  And, read far more poetry than you can ever write.

Q~You mentioned on your blog having signed up for some writing workshops recently.  Why do you value this?

A~I look on writing workshops as part of my ongoing poetry education.  I value the learning to be gained from more experienced poets in order to explore, for example, the use of writing constraints, set forms and routes into writing that I tend to shy away from, ordinarily.  Writing outside of one’s comfort zone often produces surprising results.  For me, it’s the main benefit of joining a NaPoWriMo group, too; I’m prompted into writing what I’d never otherwise have written, in terms of subject, form, choice of language etc.  April becomes a break-out from my writing rut.

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

A~There’s a lot happening on the poetry front in my local area.  Many local writing communities overlap and there are a growing number of regular open mic poetry and spoken word events, so there’s something for everyone, whatever their style or preference.  Leicester’s two universities also organise literary and independent small press events. I’m involved in running  a women’s poetry group, Soundswrite, which meets twice monthly to read and discuss published poetry by others and to workshop each others’ poem drafts.  I also attend the South Leicestershire Stanza, which is affiliated to The Poetry Society.  And I regularly read at poetry open mics across the UK Midlands as I think it’s healthy to step outside of one’s poetry locality.

Q~How does having a women’s only space like Soundswrite enable creativity for you and the group?

A~Soundswrite was set up in 2005, by Karin Coller and Pat Corina, as an open group for women in the UK East Midlands enthusiastic about all aspects of poetry.  In my experience there exists a difference in group dynamics between the women-only and mixed gender poetry groups I attend.  I think it’s fair to say that, while most of the active members of Soundswrite also attend other (mixed) groups, Soundswrite’s longevity is due, in part, to the need for a women-only space within the wider poetry community.  I continue to value our robust discuss of all forms of poetry, and insightful and impartial feedback on work-in-progress.  Soundswrite Press provides a showcase for our writing, having published, to date, several anthologies, and single-author pamphlets and short collections of poetry.

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

A~Many of my poems are slants on memories (or misrememberings), grains of truth or pure fiction.  In writing about the people who made me, I explore love in its various forms and guises, including the darker side; ageing and longevity are offshoots from the theme.  I’ve recently begun to explore superstition, old wives’ tales and folklore for a new writing project.

Q~Which poet first made you fall in love with poetry?

A~After years of studying the Classics and the English Romantic poets, it was Wilfred Owen’s WW1 poetry that leapt off the page and introduced me to a very different world: shocking images and vivid detail wrought from first-hand experience; poetry as protest and honest reportage.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I’ve been reading Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds; it was an honour to hear his T S Eliot prize reading in London in January.  Helen Dunmore’s final (and Costa prize-winning) collection, Inside the Wave also had a profound effect on me, especially its end-of-life poems.  Next on my TBR pile is Wislawa Szymborska’s Here, translated from the Polish by Clare Kavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak.

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

A~I consider Magma Poetry to be one of the best windows on the breadth of contemporary poetry; it publishes work by new or little-known writers to the more established, accepting international submissions.  With reviews of current publications and thought-provoking articles, it is as informative as it is inspirational.  With three themed issues annually and a rolling editorship, Magma maintains a fresh approach to the publishing of poetry and comment.

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

A~More of my work can be found in London Grip New Poetry, Ink, Sweat & TearsAntiphon, and The Lampeter ReviewYou can also check out my blog and follow me on Twitter.