Nancy Kuhl is the author of The Wife of the Left Hand, Suspend, and Pine to Sound, all from Shearsman. She's also published several chapbooks and, to my mind, understands the possibilities of that book form as well as any poet. Her poetry often examines the lives of women, from her own to Amelia Earhart to Hildegard of Bingen. Her attention to language and to detail, her deft choice of image, the grappling with ideas through sound as well as meaning--all of it draws me in. Here are a few lines from "Pyramid," a poem about various ways a person might fall:
Doesn’t it please you, their aesthetic collapse,
how, for a moment, they flutter like dandelion seeds?
The top-most girl falls
often—from curbs, over tree--
roots, almost anything might send her.
Nancy is also the Curator of Poetry for the the Beinecke Library's Collection of American Literature. In that role, she has written several exhibition catalogs, including Intimate Circles: American Women in the Arts, which I'm incredibly happy to have on my shelf and go back to regularly. Her work--her own poetry and also the conversations she fosters through her work as a curator and librarian--shapes contemporary poetry in wonderful ways.
-- Anna Leahy
I encountered Sonia Greenfield for the first time at a reading of ekphrastic poems that I participated in at the Riverside Art Museum last August. I was bowled over by her “Nafsicrate Considers Bruegel’s Famous Work”:
I told Daedalus to watch him, goddammit,
so now here I am waiting for my son
to breaststroke home to me, held up on fingers
of green foam. Waiting past the rise and fall
of Rome through to Pieter’s brushwork
which rendered the sun like a lemon on fire . . . .
I loved the point of view in this poem, the implicit war between the parents, the portrait of infinite, focused and pragmatic mother-love which maintains even self-deceiving hope. And I promptly bought Sonia Greenfield's first book, Boy with a Halo at the Farmer's Market, winner of the 2014 Codhill Poetry Award. Greenfield's fierce and witty work is highly inventive, and often other-directed, as in the title poem, which imagines the later life of this boy with a "metal halo" "bolted into his skull"—a life in which a broken neck turns out to have been "a lucky break." She re-invents myth, again, in "Afternoon with Redón," another ekphrastic poem, in which Galatea is not the victim of Polyphemus, but "like the heartbreaker, / the boy-teaser, the self-pleaser / who only thought to have some fun," and he "like a monster-hearted boy before he buys / his gun." In "Milk Carton Kids," she invents the places and ways children can disappear forever, not even to be found "stuffed / in a trunk" or "dragged from a lake." She asks how "thoughts and prayers go out" in response to a disaster ("Like a loon's / song transmitted by Morse?"), as when "the first plane hit" in 2001. Her metaphors and similes are fresh and exact. "At night bugs came out / and flicked their shells open // like switchblades." ("Pestilence"). They are also compressed, deft, and unsentimental; in “Sago Mine, West Virginia”—about the explosion that killed twelve of thirteen miners—the coal is described as “a black ribbon pinned to / a lapel.”
Greenfield's is often a dire, threatening world seen with a cold, clear eye, a world in which "schools are ever on lockdown behind / chain-link where the mothers cling" ("School Rules"), yet there can be sly amusement in her clear-eyed inventiveness. In "A Vision in Stride Rite," the baby throws his sandal out of the pram, and eats champagne grapes "as he surveys his subjects." The narrator (echoing Allen Ginsberg?), concludes:
Here he is,
Baby Bacchus, making the most
of privilege as his servant
puts her shoulder to the wheel
and shoves on
up the hill.
I admire the strategies of so many of these poems, the way the poet manages their "plots,” or turns them multiple times. In "Morning Coffee with Chagall," she describes a Chagall painting on a coffee cup, a painting in which
The bride and groom lift off
as if their feet were filled with helium, a bouquet of peonies
in her hands, lips locked as if they're
inflating each other like elegant balloons . . .
The poem only turns neatly toward the self in the third line from the end, when the pronoun "my" deftly enters:
Held aloft, alive--
before their feet touch the ground, before dishes
need to be done. Before the cup is drained, rinsed
and shut away in the hot spray of my top-of-the-line
machine, caught flying before the gravity
of domestic routine.
I look forward to further work from the accomplished Sonia Greenfield.
-- Judy Kronenfeld
As Voigt is quite a reserved and private person, I am always surprised and delighted by her insight, and her generosity to share herself with the reader. She is intelligent and has a quiet grace about her and through her work. What I appreciate about her poetry is the quiet way in which her poems unfold and reveal themselves: no loud bangs and thrashing metaphors, no hyperbole of language, but a certain knowing that she is at work and in service of the poem. And respectful of her art, the reader, and her subject. Beverly writes often of her upbringing in Pittsburgh. Coming from a large family, many of her poems are of the reunions, dinners, or get-togethers on the house porch or in a historic restaurant in her home town. Her closeness to nature, how she walks through the world in wonder of the forests, and what she chooses to see, is a source of great joy to her, and a source of wonderful poetry of the natural world, for us.
-- Carine Topal
All that long night we hovered,
all of us in the room, watching
her slow retreat. Her feet
so cold, her fingers
Again and again
she raised her arm, wanting
out, wanting back.
Again and again, I guided it
down to the bed. All the care
she’d given me, repaid
in such a small gift.
Blue mother in the bed--
Venus in marble—glowing
down that long hallway. Legs
in folds of winding sheets.
One shoulder shrugging off
the world, the other arm
I think of the apple tree
in blossom whose branch
I’d once pulled toward me.
Whoa, I whispered, when it reared
in the wind. I’ve got you.
When I first recognized that my words were falling onto paper in poetic form, that is, when I started writing poems and calling them that, I felt like a surprised and vulnerable fledgling bird. And the voice that caught and lofted me further forwards was Rebecca del Rio’s.
Rebecca is an American-born poet, mother, and grandmother who divides her time between Northern California and Catalunya (Spain). We met, and I became familiar with her work, because we both attend a Zen meditation center that places creativity and compassion at the center of its practice.
Rebecca’s poetry has been published in literary journals in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and she holds degrees in both creative writing and public health. For over twenty-five years, she worked as an investigator in the Superior Court in Sonoma County, California, and she has also been deeply involved in social work and public health projects in Guatemala. Her extensive work and travel have opened her eyes to multiple histories, and to global suffering.
Rebecca writes poems determined to walk in the dark with beauty. “To awaken here,” she writes at the close of her poem “Auschwitz-Birkenau,”
Is to know one’s
Darkness, and not
Turning from it, see that light.
She questions unashamedly (“Who am I / in this enormous evil?”). She can dwell in the large dilemmas (“When there’s not enough to eat… we wander… We step into occupied / territory, call it our own…”) and capture small moments in crystals of specificity (“Begin with tools: a hammer, / a hoe. A moment under gathering / clouds…”). She made it clear to me that a poet is served by being observant in so many ways—watching our dreams, reading the newspapers, listening to the small, routine habits of speech (“…we say, as a way / to soothe our separate souls, / ‘We’re under the same moon.’ / Why not the same sun?”). But most of all she woke me up to the alive-ness of poems themselves.
In “Poems Are Trying To Write Me,” Rebecca is chased by poems, beseeched by them, each one with an impish child’s face like a “rising moon, / grinning.” She can’t turn away:
They dream me, they think in me,
they step on my heels as I walk,
they tug on my sleeves.
I read these lines and knew that feeling. And knew that this was what I wanted to do in my poetry: create that feeling of recognition, of pleasure, of real life, even in metaphor, even in disorientation, repulsion, confusion. I wanted to learn to walk the line between singular vision and civic awareness, through attention to language, emotion, and craft.
Rebecca’s poems have helped me pay attention to my own creative imps and babies, walk into my own dark questions, and listen to my own voice. I am deeply grateful for hers. -- Amy Elizabeth Robinson.
A decade ago, when I opened Sun Yung Shin’s debut collection, Skirt Full of Black (Coffee House Press 2006), one hundred pages of postcolonial sagacity in multiple tongues greeted me with echoes of Theresa Cha and Myung Mi Kim. I sensed a kindling - and kindred - spirit for Asian poet-sisterhood.
Years later, as “machine poetas” of Margaret Rhee’s marvelous Kimchi Poetry Machine – with Devi Laskar, Erin Adair-Hodges, Micha Cárdenas, Shelley Lee, Hyejong Kook, and Terry Hong – our syllables mingled in multimedia cyberspace, enhanced by Sun Yung Shin’s startling lines of vivid rapture – and voluptuous rupture.
I love Shin’s sequence of nested open parentheses in “Flower II, Calyx” from Skirt Full of Black.
Flower II, CALYX
Blazing corolla (sweet apparition
bud of smoke (ruptured confession
shroud of paradox (embrace an import of ivory
this maiden portrait (graveside signature
first there was a sword (glint of heavy elements
made to pierce (tender
my only-heart (cherry wounds
drunken fruit (as lightning falls from heaven
For this feature, I invited Sun Yung Shin to share about her current projects, as well. Shin writes, “I have been thinking a lot about fictional cyborgs, orientalist visions of the future, notions of purity, 19th century conceptions of the sublime, utopia ... this poem is in my new book that is about the politics of hospitality (guest/host relations), the uncanny valley, the monstrous female (always ...) ... ” The following poem, "Unalloyed," will appear in her forthcoming book, Unbearable Splendor (Coffee House Press 2016). -- By Karen An-hwei Lee, Poet of the Week.
Lambert: You admire it.
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor ... unclouded by conscience, remorse,
or delusions of morality.
- Alien, 1979, directed by Ridley Scott
1. The woman in white by the side of the road will eat your blushing heart and throw your alien, illegible, edible laws in the fire.
2. The woman in white has a face like a weapon. Sharpen it. If you could get inside her body you could ride in
it like a vast and war-ready ship. Slaves at the oars disposable as time. Sections of time thrown overboard to lighten the load, for you will get heavier and heavier as time goes on.
3. The woman in white places her palms against your face like twin curses and leaves black marks all over your flesh, as if you were a herd animal being chosen for the next truck that arrives tomorrow.
4. You invent the internal tattoo and gently remove each organ for scarification, branding, and the gentle and vivid watercolor of the sewing needle.
5. You would like to devour permanence and dissolve it in your many stomachs. You would like to replace your skin when you grow weary of its memories, everything that seeps in it and never passes through,
6. This woman is a disappointment. Can she be exchanged, can she be returned, can she be reborn. Douse it
7. The palm reader does not hesitate to read the palm of any creature. Every creature has a future, every other
creature speaks its own language that we cannot understand. It does not care about our future but it should.
8. Every woman is a source of terror. She is sublime, she gives chase like the white whale and she will destroy
your ship and bring you down with her, tethered to her by a sewing needle. You break the surface of the
water and become something else. A foreign object with no memory of your gills. You burn in the icy water.
Your last image is of a beautiful woman you saw on a street once, she left a wake of terror which you reared back from as if it was fire.
9. In the 19th century, men were obsessed with the sublime, the distant, the unknowable, that which causes
awe and terror. Alien, unknowable. Now men have forgotten the gods but not women, an ever renewable
source and object of this enduring passion. On her hands, clever spiders, might wear a band of metal to
mark her as yours. A miniature heart of coal compressed by time into something white and shining, a star
while it still gives light.
10. This woman in white is a ghost. She is a machine. She will be a god. Her spirit is a sacrifice to cleanse the
land of its sins. Blameless monarch. She is bathing inside you. Find her. A labyrinth, a fork in the path, your future.
신 선 영 Sun Yung Shin
Sun Yung Shin 신 선 영 is the author of the forthcoming books in 2016: prose collection Unbearable Splendor from Coffee House Press and essay anthology A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota from Minnesota Historical Society Press. Her poetry collections Rough, and Savage and Skirt Full of Black, winner of the Asian American Literary Award for Poetry, were also published by Coffee House Press. She co-edited the anthology Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption and is the author of Cooper’s Lesson, a bilingual Korean/English illustrated book for children. She lives in Minneapolis.
“Love leaves a trail
in the scattered seed
where small birds have feasted
and in the smell of jasmine
circling the doorway
~ Marilyn McEntyre, opening lines from, “Where Love Has Been”
The Light at the Edge (Fithian Press, 2006)
Marilyn McEntyre is a poet attentive to what can be seen in the light. In addition to her poetry books, The Light at the Edge and Where Icarus Falls (1998), she has three collections of ekphrastic poems, published by Eerdmans and dedicated to selected artworks of the Dutch painters Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh respectively: In Quiet Light (2000), Drawn to the Light (2003), and The Color of Light (2007). Paired with beautiful, full-color reproductions of the originals, her verses draw the reader’s vision gently into the worlds of poetry and paint, rendering the possibilities of interpretation in luminescent words.
When I taught creative writing at Colorado Christian University, I liked to use The Color of Light in my poetry unit, not only because Van Gogh’s artwork reveals the immeasurable value of the artist’s calling and perseverance despite his lack of worldly success with love or money, but also because the collection shows many strategies a poet can use when writing ekphrastically, such as:
- Describing a painting with attention to contrasting colors (“Self-Portrait with Gray Felt Hat”)
- Describing a painting using a vivid list of what’s depicted in it so that the extraordinary significance of the ordinary
becomes more apparent (“Van Gogh’s Bedroom”)
- Imagining the life of a person portrayed in a portrait (“Portrait of Madam Trubac”)
- Incorporating a biblical or literary allusion (“The Sower”)
- Using the description of the painting to raise a philosophical question at the poem’s conclusion (“Landscape with
House and Ploughman”)
- Imagining what would happen if things depicted in the painting began to move closer or interact differently (“The
- Imagining the sound of the music playing in the scene of the painting (“The Starry Night”)
- Imagining the relationship between two people portrayed in a painting (“Couple Walking between Rows of Trees”)
- Inverting a traditional interpretation of a painting (“Wheatfield with Crows”).
“Wheatfield with Crows” is often considered Van Gogh’s last painting and associated with his suicide, but McEntyre sees the light in the darkness, for as she says at the conclusion of her poem: “the sun / that poured itself, day / after day into these stalks / shines. It shines.” Thus the poet turns from the negative toward photons of the positive.
McEntyre’s poetry emerges from a life of faith, thought, and spiritual practice, which she has lived not only as a poet and teacher of poetry, but as a minister and a healer -- even as an angel of grace. She is particularly interested in a field known as the “medical humanities,” and she has worked with many groups of people to help them integrate creative expression, especially poetry, with the healing process. Her books A Faithful Farewell: Living Your Last Chapter with Love (Eerdmans, 2015), Patient Poets: Living Illness from the Inside Out (UC Medical Humanities Press, 2013), and Teaching Literature and Medicine (MLA, 2000) reflect her commitment.
Marilyn McEntyre is a friend and colleague, someone I admire, and I believe anyone would enjoy her beautiful work.
~ Jane Beal, PhD, poet of the week.
Amanda Chiado is a force to be reckoned with. In her poems you might find zombies, guns and knives, a certain sexiness and edge, even Houdini. You never really know what to expect in a Chiado poem, except that you'll be surprised and unsettled. A Best New Poet of 2009, chosen by Kim Addonizio, this young poet is already an impressive talent.
Chiado is an MFA graduate of California College of the Arts. Her work is forthcoming or appears in It was Written: Poetry Inspired by Hip Hop, Arcana The Tarot Poetry Anthology, Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books, Witness, Sweet, Forklift, Ohio, Best New Poets, Fence, Eleven Eleven and others. She currently works as the Program Coordinator for the San Benito County Arts Council and she is also an active California Poet in the Schools. Read her work and connect with her at www.amandachiado.com.