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Fables, Spirits, and How Not to Lose Your Head to Poetry

poetry

A grasshopper walks into a bar and orders an instruction manual for reading poetry. The bartender, an ornery blue jay, eyes the crunchy-on-the-outside grasshopper hungrily, but decides to play nice. We’re sold out, he says, but I can write down everything you need to know on a bar napkin. Whaddya having to drink?

Absinthe and a shot of wheat grass, says the grasshopper. The bartender serves the drinks and scribbles a few lines. I have to warn you, he whispers ominously as he slides the napkin across the bar, once you read this, your life as you know it will cease to exist. I recommend you drink up first.

The grasshopper knocks back his absinthe and studies the instructions. Ahhh, yes, now I see.

And with that, the bartender leans over and bites off the grasshopper’s chewy-on-the-inside head, wiping his mouth clean with the napkin.

  1. Read the entire poem without stopping. Remember, you’re reading a poem, not just reading poetry.

  2. Read it again, out loud. A good poem has a commanding audible presence, musicality, propulsive energy, coherent thought, and the sure hand of a confident poet.

  3. Concentrate, but don’t obsess over words, line breaks, or syntax. Keep your mind nimble and simply absorb the poet’s creative intentions.

War of the Foxes

Book Cover
Richard Siken
Copper Canyon Press
Softcover $17.00 (96pp)
978-1-55659-477-9
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

A poet for whom face value represents life at its most treacherous, Richard Siken’s 2004 first collection, Crush, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Thomas Gunn Award and a Lambda Literary Award.

Raphael, Saint George and the Dragon, 1504–6

It’s hard to talk about what you believe while you are
believing it. Fervor reduces thought to shorthand and
all we get is an icon. Give a man a weapon and you
have a warrior. Put him on a horse and you have
a hero. The weapon is a tool. The horse is a metaphor.
Raphael painted this twice—white horse facing east
against the greens, white horse facing west against the
yellows. The maiden flees or prays, depending. A basic
dragon, the kind you’d expect from the Renaissance.
Evidence of evil but not proof. There’s a companion
piece as well: Saint Michael. Paint angels, it’s easier:
you don’t need the horse. Michael stands on Satan’s
throat, vanquishing, while everything brown burns red.
All these things happened. Allegedly. When you paint
an evil thing, do you invoke it or take away its power?
This has nothing to do with faith but is still a good
question. Raphael was trying to say something about
spirituality. This could be the definition of painting.
The best part of spirituality is reverence. There are other
parts. Some people like to hear the sound of their own
voice. If you don’t believe in the world it would be
stupid to paint it. If you don’t believe in God, then who
are you talking to?

MATT SUTHERLAND (August 27, 2015)

Underwater Panther

Book Cover
Angie Macri
Southeast Missouri State University Press
Softcover $14.00 (88pp)
978-0-9962596-1-3
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Winner of the 2014 Cowles Poetry Book Prize, the fetchingly named Underwater Panther is Angie Macri’s debut collection of poems rooted in Mississippi River landscapes and lore.

Ismenian Dragon

Is a constellation bigger than the house, than the state?
My son leans into my answer like a hard turn. I describe
the lion’s size, measure the bear’s back, and he is excited
that there’s a dragon, too. It curls around the sky, waiting,
where he will piece together its scales. He draws lines
and dots, alive in his mind pacing the sky, sure as I’m sitting
by his side. There is the brother in search of his sister,
taken by the gods, and the fragments of the dragon
that he killed, the teeth he planted so that armies rose
to help him build Thebes. I tell my son of home,
the running slave, the Mississippi with white ash and clay.
The dragon was killed guarding the water from a spring.
His body of venom, the spots on his back glitter around
us even now, like men born armed, upset from the ground.

MATT SUTHERLAND (August 27, 2015)

Lady of the Moon

Book Cover
Amy Lowell
Lillian Faderman
Mary Meriam
Headmistress Press
Softcover $15.00 (108pp)
978-0-692-38851-8
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

This collaborative project features Amy Lowell’s lesbian love poetry from the early twentieth century, an essay by Lillian Faderman that analyzes Lowell’s poetry and her relationship with actress Ada Dwyer Russell, and lastly, Mary Meriam’s twenty-seven sonnets capturing Lowell’s voice in the grips of torrid romantic fever. “Bullion,” below, is by Lowell.

Bullion

My thoughts
Chink against my ribs
And roll about like silver hail-stones.
I should like to spill them out,
And pour them, all shining,
Over you.
But my heart is shut upon them
And holds them straitly.

Come, You! and open my heart;
That my thoughts torment me no longer,
But glitter in your hair.

MATT SUTHERLAND (August 27, 2015)

A Hundred Million Years of Nectar Dances

Book Cover
Richard Jarrette
Green Writers Press
Softcover $14.95 (148pp)
978-0-9960872-9-2
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Richard Jarrette’s wanderlust in the natural world does not require a compass. He treks a starlit path favoring one foot and then the other, attentive and inquisitive. Jarrette is the author of Beso the Donkey and lives in California’s Central Coast.

A VIEW FROM THE BENCH

Beneath the canopy of an Italian Stone Pine,
in a ravine below the park, crows
gather to their council.

Hummingbirds kiss and kiss again
the autumn sage
near a bouquet of girls
making rules for their game.

Aristophanes said the Sacred Mysteries of Eleusis
are the saying of many ridiculous things,
and many serious things.

The girls consider whether
imaginary friends should have turns,
deciding—yes—so no one
feels bad.

The crows scatter
to the perimeter of the shade
and the world seems lucky
in every direction.

MATT SUTHERLAND (August 27, 2015)

Paradise Drive

Book Cover
Rebecca Foust
Press 53
Softcover $14.95 (114pp)
978-1-941209-16-5
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Exactly fourteen lines, each of five-foot iambics—ta DUM ta DUM ta DUM ta DUM ta DUM—such is life for a sonnet, and Rebecca Foust strings more than eighty together in this biting, rhythmically haunting collection. Foust’s poems have been published in dozens of journals, and her four other books are award winners, including the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry. She lives in the SF Bay area.

Troth

The wicks of his open eyes sunk in paraffin,
my dog’s nearly gone. Shaved like a whore,
stapled and stitched and IV-cathetered,
he lies on his side, his monitor beeping
with the same exhausted insistence
as the terrier barking from less-critical-care
in the room beyond. What does loyal mean
here? When I was sick or just couldn’t sleep,
he stayed up with me. For twelve years,
I knew I’d be missed
if I left, and washed with wet joy
each time I came home.
I’m on my knees, now, leaning in. He turns
his head, smells it’s me. He tastes my face.

MATT SUTHERLAND (August 27, 2015)

Our Portion

New and Selected Poems

Book Cover
Philip Terman
Autumn House Press
Softcover $19.95 (239pp)
978-1-938769-06-1
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Intensely cerebral, alive to every facet of his life’s pleasures, convictions, and ironies, Philip Terman has authored eight collections of poetry and chapbooks, and earned the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Award, the Sow’s Ear Prize, and the Kenneth Patchen Award. A professor of English at Clarion University, he codirects the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.

WALKING TO JERUSALEM

Pedometer attached to her belt, your mother, spry and strong
at eighty, joins the other Methodist Church members
in calculating the 5,915 miles, no matter the weather, to add up
all the way from Linesville, Pennsylvania to Jerusalem.
They need not worry about miracles or pausing
at the signs of the cross. They need not stop for security
to check their purses for weapons. They need no visa
nor baggage, no money to exchange for the shekels, no guide-
book, no guide. They need no ancient tongue or prophecies.
They are, simply, day by day, walking, mile after mile:
the sink to the table, uptown to the post office, down
the block to visit the sick neighbor. Sundays to and from church.
And when they walk far enough, adding up their pedometers
together, they will arrive in Jerusalem. And keep walking.

MATT SUTHERLAND (August 27, 2015)

Slingshots and Love Plums

Book Cover
Wendy Videlock
Able Muse Press
Softcover $19.95 (120pp)
978-1-927409-52-7
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

At play in the spacious fields of her wit and down to earthiness, Wendy Videlock’s poetry has been published in the New York Times, Poetry, and two other full length collections of her work, Nevertheless (a finalist for the 2012 Colorado Book Award), and The Dark Gnu. She lives in the Rockies.

!

I think that I shall never fear
a brontosaurus that is queer,

iguanodon as fetisheer,
a mammoth bringing up the rear,
an astrodon with extra gear,

metrosexual squirrel and deer,
a breeder with a dance career,
a fruit with cauliflower ear,

a lesbianic Chanticleer,
a grinning limpish-wristed Lear,
the weird one or the mutineer,

but those who perfectly adhere,
stay clear, stay clear, stay clear, stay clear.

MATT SUTHERLAND (August 27, 2015)

The Glory Gets

Book Cover
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Wesleyan University Press
Hardcover $24.95 (80pp)
978-0-8195-7542-5
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

A black woman in America, hyper-acutely mindful of her race and gender, has much of interest to share, and when the medium of sharing is skillful poetry, walls come tumbling down. Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, aforementioned, is an English prof at the University of Oklahoma and the author of three previous collections.

BIRTHRIGHT

After you are cleaned of your slick outfit,
you will scar down the seam of your mind
and grow tight-packed stones beneath your skin.
Nothing dissolves. No one will explain.
Daily you will search for real meaning
in constant death and sundry nonsense
but no meaning will take place—damn it.
You might give in and commence to pray
and God might visit and drink your tea,

but The Holy One won’t stay for long—
you won’t see whether this mystery
wears a flowered dress or tailored pants.
Your mother will give you her big pot
to stir, though you didn’t ask for that.
She will tell you cooking heavy meals
will bring you immeasurable joy.
You will know she’s telling you a lie.
You will cut your woman’s eyes at her—

your enemy, another woman,
another convict, one more conflict.
You will hate her for pushing you through
her narrow door into a cramped room.
You will grow wise: your mother was born
only the day before you were born—
and no woman ever really dies.
You will thank her for her cooking pot—
gratitude, another betrayal.

MATT SUTHERLAND (August 27, 2015)

Matt Sutherland

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