Virginia Euwer Wolff, award-winning novelist for young adults; Oregon, USA:
“A reverberant childhood memory: Silent, snowy winter fields, with my parents and my brother. I was probably four. Towering Douglas fir and Western red cedar trees almost black against the pearl-gray late afternoon sky. The four of us walking out from our log house, past the barn and the sighing cow, snow ssssshhhhhhing under our boots. Three dark deer on the white field. Mother whispered, Ssshhh, don’t talk, just watch the deer, and I said something like What? and the deer immediately looked up because I had broken the spell, and we all stared silently back. We four had that moment with those deer. My father died the next winter and everything changed.”
“My readers are young, age 11 and up, and they step lively on that bridge, caught between courage and caution. They no longer feel like children, and they are ambivalent about accepting rules that the adult world imposes on them. Their neurotransmitters are still wild and free. These growing kids have Geiger counters for hypocrisy, and they make an improvisatory art form of going through a day. It can look to us like pure mayhem. Their excesses may appall the grownups, as those of the grownups appall them. They are poignant beyond description.”
“The British author of books for young adults, Aidan Chambers, has said, ‘The great quality of the novel is that it’s about the exploration of consciousness.’ What could be realer than that? We novelists for the young have a holy office.”
“Here are some things I’ve learned as a working writer:
The faces of comedy and tragedy are intimately linked, separated by a small twirk of the mouth: the gravity and the levity of being alive.”
“We must watch and listen tirelessly. Every contact with every cubic inch of life has something to teach us. Our brains are capable of close readings of the world: the rocks, the insults, the hillsides, the empty boasts, the sunshine, the lies. Watch and listen. Of course it’s stimulating, baffling, distressing, exhausting. What else could we ask it to be?”
“The old verities don’t go away. For instance, we really do reap what we sow. But we need to evolve in order to discover how true the truths are. I think that when we’re young and our passion spills over into everything (anger about injustice, anger about politics, anger about lunch), we may try to believe that basic principles don’t apply to us. Time shows us that they do.”
“Self-discipline makes the difference between the person who works at writing something substantial and the person who hopes to do so someday. Millimeters of progress, day upon day upon week upon year, add up. Enough of these and a book can be completed. A horrible first draft can be a huge step toward a good book. See Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, on the topic of first drafts.”
” Many of us write way too much in search of what is essential to say. When author Thanhha Lai told me that ‘writing, even bad writing, counts for something,’ she meant that our bad writing can be our necessary homework. It can be like the extra paint on the canvas, the extra clay on the pot. It helps us wonder what is under there, waiting to come out. And that’s much of what our work is: seeing through the encrustation that we put there when we were full of fine intention and grand design. The screed might become the Haiku. (Or it might not.)”
“The pairing of editor and author is as important, as strong and fragile and accident-prone, as a marriage. An excellent match can be beautifully fruitful, and a bad match nasty, brutish, and short. My steadfast editor and I have worked together for more than 20 years.”
“Embracing a cause bigger than ourselves is part of our obligation in being alive. Embracing fifty causes may not help much.”
“Museums. We must go to them. Whenever we can. Museums force us to ask questions that we might not otherwise have asked.”
“Nothing is as simple as it looks.”
“Regret is one of our best teachers.”
“It’s easy to embrace a single religion or to dismiss all of them. More difficult to learn what we can about each one. And much more instructive. Same with every language. The language of Guangzhou, the language of Genoa, the language of rain.”
“Rage is one possible motivation for making art, but other motivations may come along that are more sturdy, more rewarding.”
“We need to know poetry. Of all kinds. Memorizing poetry is good for us, not only for use in maintaining our sanity should we be taken as prisoners of war, but for that, too.”
“The most pressing concern anent children today is poverty. And its concomitant curses: poor nutrition, poor dental care, decreased ability to focus in school and the resultant inadequate and distorted learning. The easiest things to learn are anger and envy. Harder to learn are reading skills, mathematics, critical thinking, wise decision-making. When kids have low expectations and not enough to eat they can be more inclined to learn the easy things. For children who don’t suffer poverty, the most serious problem is the difficulty of sorting out who is a better role model and who a worse one. The next worst problem is the dominion of gadgets and increasing remoteness of the natural world. The thing we most need as human beings is empathy, and it’s quite likely that poverty and gadgets can combine to diminish the possibility for children to learn it.”
“It seems to me that cynicism is the temporary privilege of the well-fed and the last resort of the starving. For the privileged adolescent, cynicism seems to be a phase, not unlike puberty, and a fashionable mode, not unlike tattoos or the decoration of the moment. For the hungry in places ravaged by natural disasters and/or human greed, cynicism is at least a grasp at a clenched fist; and the clenched fist is determination to last just one more day. I do think that as thoughtful people we have to embrace the whole thing: the nasty, the heartbreaking, the horrible, the jubilation. Here are the opening lines from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, ‘Happiness.’
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.”
“Carlos Kalmar, conductor of the Oregon Symphony, said on Jan. 15, 2012: ‘Real great artists are not divas.’ Neither are real great livers of life.”
“Much of what I’ve learned—slowly, painfully—has correlations in music. I had one year of piano lessons at age seven. When I was eight, my mother gave in to my pleading and let me switch to violin. And how in the world could we country kids, living without electricity in pre-TV USA, have known what a violin was if our mother hadn’t taken us to concerts to see a real live orchestra playing? Nearly a lifetime spent trying to make music on this difficult instrument has taught me lifelong lessons: Listen to constructive criticism and act on it. Don’t spend a lot of energy complaining about having to learn all those lines, spaces, accidentals, dynamic markings, time signatures, fingerings, daunting bowings, tiny details that make music in the world. Practice the scales and etudes; there are no shortcuts. An orchestra, or any music ensemble, is a team; learn how to be a team player and don’t pretend not to know the rules. Giving up on a musical instrument will cause regret, and that regret will gnaw into old age, long after forgetting all the old phone numbers. There is always new and harder music to learn. Every performance can be improved. When I think I have problems, I remember the lives of Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Clara Schumann, Brahms. A few minutes of extreme beauty in a lifetime are probably worth the grievous trouble of getting there. Tenacity, tenacity, tenacity.”
• • •
Kevin M. Hibshman, poet; Pennsylvania, USA:
Myths and Relics
She came back, smelling of the river and all that gathers underneath.
Her hair was some form of wild vegetation that crackled with clean.
I wanted souvenirs from the murky floor and she did not disappoint:
A child’s sneaker, a chunk of wood and a new myth alive in her eyes.
“My role models were usually women. My heroines include Patti Smith, Diane diPrima, Diamanda Galas, and then some male artists: William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Ginsberg…I’m very Beat! I view gender as being a very fluid state that fluctuates naturally in the absence of fear. We seem to exist in a world of polarities that are not necessarily opposites but different aspects of the whole. Gender is only a construct. I do not believe it could ever be defined as it continues to evolve.”
She smelled of burning things.
The earth seemed to kiss her steps as she walked.
The sky was a song she heard and repeated daily.
She cupped the rain in one hand, the wind in the other and froze the elements
until he forgave her.
She offended the unpretty privileged and mocked the classless middle-class.
She stomped the vacuous flat and they gladly gave up their last breath.
She smiled like a mountain cat about to pounce.
She mothered fiercely and sobbed alone in dark chasms.
“We must contend with the darkness as well as the light. I don’t think I could write about situations and emotions honestly without exploring the deepest, darkest areas of my subconscious.”
She smelled of untraceable herbs.
They seeped out of her pores, her gaze, her choice of words.
We drank tea by the imaginary fire.
It was always warm in her presence.
Upon taking my leave, She advised: “Autumn is soon coming. Time to
harvest the wind and
steal back the sky.”
“I am not a visual artist, so I must paint and sculpt with words. I get inspired by the human opera that surrounds me; and the mysteries of nature also serve as a source of inspiration.”
I was sitting in reverie by a bright fire when he knelt and pushed back his long , beaded braids. How is it that one so fierce in battle plaits his hair like a woman? He did not speak but his gaze was lustful and self-satisfied. He smoothed bronzed hands over his sweat-soaked chest, felt the muscles in his sinewy arms aching voluptuously. His eyes held a hint of the infinite, eternity merely a strategy he had begun mapping. I handed him an apple and he bit joyfully, teeth gleaming vampiric. Standing suddenly, he reached and pulled me to my feet. Placing those huge yet beautiful hands on either side of my head, I felt a rush of electricity invade my body. I heard fearsome thunder rolling as if torn out of the earth. He released me and nearly smiled.
I raised my face to drink of the drops that would soon be falling from the blackened sky.
“As a boy I was very empathic, somewhat alienated and fairly inquisitive. Not much has changed. My parents gave me the gift of letting me be myself, however weird I may have seemed to them.
I find sometimes I am reluctant to divulge my sexuality out of fear of offending someone’s sensibilities. I need to be coaxed a bit and feel it’s safe.”
“There has always been this pressure in our culture to be polite and do not confront anyone with your differences. A large part of our society accepts that there is something wrong with homosexuality.”
“The artist presents differences in smaller, easier to assimilate bits for ultimate consumption. We put information, sometimes coded, into the larger air where it can be absorbed. Making it possible for people to absorb new ideas at their own pace. Perhaps it’s time I became less shy about being identified as a gay artist, though I would hope not to be limited as having to be only that. But then, if I don’t perceive being gay as a limitation… It is complex. Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I am only concerned with gay issues or subject matter. I don’t want a myopic vision. I like to talk about the rainbow, not just one particular color.”
• • •
Judith Barrington, memoirist, poet, essayist; Portland, Oregon, USA:
“When I think of how women are portraying ourselves, I tend to think in terms of memoir, which is my primary focus as a writer now, although I have also stayed connected to poetry in which we also often portray ourselves, or a version of ourselves, on the page. There’s a case to be made that we have been leaders in terms of self-examination and self-revelation—at least in the last 100 years. I say that because of course Montaigne in memoir and Catullus, as well as Sappho, in lyric, personal poetry, paved the way. But in our era, Plath and Sexton as poets, Virginia Woolf in her short memoirs, and the early memoirists of the current wave—writers like Vivian Gornick, Mary Gordon, Lucy Grealy, Lorna Sage, Patricia Hampl, Annie Dillard, and so on, strike me as pioneers in the art of the emotionally, as well as factually, true story. Of course there were men who also wrote to the heart of the matter—and I think immediately of the painful honesty and brilliant writing of Paul Monette—but I think women have taken on the genre bravely. There were more women in the field twenty years ago—which may account for how disparaged by critics the memoir genre became during the so-called ‘memoir boom.’
In terms of how women portray other women, I can’t really generalize, but I think immediately of Alexandra Fuller, whose narrator in the memoir, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, speaks honestly about her damaged mother—by anyone’s standards a nightmare of a parent. And yet, the way Fuller manages to combine the brutal facts with a sense of still loving that mother always struck me as being the achievement of a particularly female sensibility—and perhaps a female ethic too.
Again judging from memoirs and poems, I’d say that there have been certain subjects that were dealt with in particular generations. When I was teaching at the summer workshop my partner and I ran for eighteen years—The Flight of the Mind—in the late 80’s and early 90’s many women were writing about being sexually abused in childhood. For a while there was an overwhelming number of these stories from women who had arrived at an age where they could bear to look at it, and at a time when feminism was helping to open up that dialogue. It seemed like a flowering of what the poets have called ‘confession,’—though I dislike that term because it smacks of admitting to sin. Of course, there still are stories of abuse and violence, but it seems that the hard truths (I mean truths that are hard to reveal for different reasons) have broadened out to include many other topics such as spirituality, relationships with partners and children, the natural world, politics, and so on. And more recently, death.
As a radical feminist who was active in political work for women, both in London in the 70’s and in Oregon after that, improvements never come as fast as I would like. People often talk as if feminism has done its work, but there are still enormous improvements to be made in terms of legal rights and social mores. Abortion rights are definitely going backwards in the USA, and in these hard economic times, women are suffering disproportionately. As a lesbian, I’ve seen huge changes and personally hurtled from the long, dark closet I inhabited growing up into openness. My poetry certainly reflects the journey, and the memoir I am working on now tries to trace its development in my own life and the communities I’ve been part of.
The girly-girls thing seems to me just another manifestation of how hard it is to embrace a new image of femaleness—one that doesn’t rely on old stereotypes. The consumer culture bears a lot of blame in grooming little girls to adore that awful shade of pink many of them wear from their jackets to their shoes.
I think that any way in which men try to emulate the best qualities we think of as female is to be encouraged! No one gender should ‘own’ the admirable human traits. Women have certainly been open to acquiring some of the better ‘masculine’ ones. Actually, in reading about earlier women’s lives, both writers and artists, it seems there were always a number of men in those circles who embodied femaleness in some form, and not all were gay. I think nowadays, because of the feminist movement, men have more language in which to discuss their gender aspirations, but the phenomenon may not be new.
From my memoir-in-progress:
For as long as I could remember, I hadn’t felt like a proper girl. It wasn’t that I’d wanted to be a boy: how could I? I had no idea what boys were like. Until I was in my mid teens I’d known only two: Graham Potter had taught me to ride a bicycle by the simple method of running along holding my saddle until one day he launched me down a steep hill and let go. I worshiped him for a year. Later, I’d corresponded with Tony Farmer, who lived next door and left me notes under a rock between our two gardens. I worshiped him too until the day we went bike riding together, locked spokes on a steep, gravelly hill, and both fell off. I broke my arm in two places and scraped my face bloody; Tony got up unscathed. When he jumped on his battered black Raleigh and rode off into the afternoon, I assumed he was going to fetch help, but it turned out he was merely leaving to avoid getting into trouble. I didn’t blame him: I might have done the same myself.
My childhood careened through days of roller skating, horse riding, tree climbing, kick-the-can, swimming, tennis, and the construction of forts, grass huts, tree houses, miniature stables, and show-jumping courses for the two family dachshunds. On winter days in my bedroom with rain beating against the windows, time slowed down as I recounted in red exercise books the adventures of my stuffed horse, Peter. While water gurgled in the gutters and the house froze, I wrapped myself in a blanket and transformed Peter from a stubborn colt into a world-class show jumper. Along the way, he encountered cruel masters like the villains in Black Beauty and tender girls who recognized his innate brilliance and restored him to health. Cheap blue biro ink smudged the pages and stained my fingers as I scribbled at breakneck speed, but I kept going until I‘d filled four notebooks and Peter achieved a utopian retirement in a lush meadow.
The great thing about those hours with the red notebooks was that I didn’t have to be a girl. I didn’t have to be anything at all. There was genderlessness, as well as timelessness, to the act of writing.
Writing was the way I gradually acquired a sense of being a person, a separate individual, and I was very slow. I always wrote, but didn’t understand how important writing was to me until I was in my twenties. It was difficult to find myself in the culture; I tended to identify with the boys, though there were some good girl models in the Enid Blyton childrens’ adventure stories that I read. The first record I bought was ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ by The Platters. My taste ran to blighted love, probably because I sensed that I was a lesbian but couldn’t grasp it for a long time. I just felt all wrong as a woman, but didn’t know why, which was terribly sad.
Of course I write to fulfill an urge to write, and in that sense I do it for myself, but I don’t think of it that way while I’m writing. I think of it as speaking to the readers, who might be more or less anyone. I like it when unlikely readers appreciate my work or get some insight from it. Early on, I wrote feminist and lesbian poems aimed, I think, at the younger generation of women, in an attempt to encourage them to identify with feminist attitudes. But I moved away from that a long time ago, wanting to expand into a wider community of both readers and writers.
‘Poetry and Prejudice,’ an essay that is included in The Stories that Shape Us: Contemporary Women Write about The West, was rewarding in that it took a lot of work to dig honestly into the situation it recounts. I had to find, and take responsibility for, my own part in what happened to me then. It deals with an incident of homophobic prejudice I encountered in rural Oregon, and I’ve felt that reading it in public, especially in the geographic area in which it is set, has done a good job of bringing a new awareness to people who hadn’t previously thought about the issue. I rarely write to educate, and didn’t in this instance, but it is very gratifying when something does contribute to changing attitudes. I had feedback from literature teachers who used it in their classrooms and reported getting heated responses, although I never had to deal with anything too wild myself.
Essential tools for a writer: a deep and thorough understanding of the language in which you write including how a sentence works; a joy in stringing words together; a good ear for rhythm; a brazen honesty; an ability to shrug off rejection, and persistence.
Destructive: writing about real people who have hurt you before you are ready to step aside from the hurt and be the writer who shapes the story. Also, treating your life partner as if s/he were Alice B. Toklas.
Don’t do it for fame or fortune (most likely there won’t be any). Don’t do it because you fancy telling people at parties that you’re a writer. Do it only if you must and then learn from whomever you admire, in a classroom or in the pages of a book. Read constantly.
I don’t pray to the universe because I don’t believe in god, but I praise the universe and hope that my words contain shadows of that praise even when the world seems hostile.”
• • •
Virginia Euwer Wolff is the distinguished author of six books for young readers.
Her books have won the National Book Award, the Michael L. Printz Honor, the Golden Kite Award, the International Reading Association Children’s Book Award, the Jane Addams Book Award, the PEN-West Book Award, the 2011 Phoenix Award (Children’s Literature Association) for THE MOZART SEASON, and the 2011 NSK Neustadt Award from World Literature Today/University of Oklahoma, and the Oregon Book Award, among many other honors.
Critics have called Make Lemonade and True Believer, the previous two books in this trilogy, “triumphant” (School Library Journal), “transcendent” (ALA Booklist), and “groundbreaking” (Publishers Weekly).
Visit Virginia at her website: http://www.virginiaeuwerwolff.com or visit her page on the Combustus Bookstore.
Judith Barrington is a poet and memoirist who has published three collections of poetry, a prize-winning memoir, and a text on writing literary memoir which is used all across the United States and in Australia and Europe. Her most recent poetry is collected in two new chapbooks, Postcard From the Bottom of the Sea and Lost Lands. Her most recent full length book is Horses and the Human Soul about which reviewer Barbara Drake, writing in Calyx, said: “These stunning poems find moral high ground in the world of nature and animals without falsifying that world.”
Her memoir, Lifesaving, won the Lambda Book Award and was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. She is well known as a writer and much sought-after as a teacher. She is a faculty member of the low-residency program at the University of Alaska at Anchorage. She offers workshops at many conferences and writing events in the U.S. as well as in England and Spain.
In 2009, the Oregon State Library selected Horses and the Human Soul for “150 Books for the Sesquicentennial” (from among books by Oregon writers, 1836 – 2009)
Judith grew up in England and moved to the United States in 1976. She has lived in Portland, Oregon since then, returning to Europe to give readings and workshops every year. Visit Judith Barrington’s page on the Combustus Bookstore.
Andreas Friedl, photographer; Thal, Austria:
Pierre Gable, photographer; Provence-Alpes-Cote D’Aeur, France:
Mikael Raymond, photographer; Gnesta, Sweden:
Denis Olivier, photographer; Bordeaux, France:
Kevin H. Hibshman, poet; United States:
Kevin’s new poetry chapbook, “Incessant Shining” is now available. Published by Propaganda Press.
Raphael Perez, painter; Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel:
* * *
SOUTH AFRICA: Poet, artist, activist, Martin Lochner
“Fucking Marine! I am a fucking Marine!” The new recruit with the gelled hair is chanting and I tell him to shut his trap.
We have entered the contact area and everywhere the stench of burning flesh, both livestock and humans. Dismembered men and limbs strewn about. Mortar attack on the village during the night.
The boy who is much too pretty for any of this, the boy who should be safe at home sandwiched between two smiling girls at a homecoming dance, is screaming and pissing his pants.
I smack him. “Restrain yourself or die today, boy.“
But it is too late. Our cover blown.
Like a flash flood, the enemy is upon us, and what a macabre scene: freedom-fighting guerillas in woman’s clothing, faces concealed behind primitive death masks.
Our machine gunner cleans five belts of ammunition, killing nearly a score of cannibal soldiers; but the adversary total is only increasing. I instruct bayonets to be fixed for a fight to the death.
They shoot brother John through the skull, Staff Sergeant Willis through the mouth, and one by one our totals reduce in a carpet of bloody waste.
The boy is still screaming, and we are starting to lose the left flank. With gritted teeth and muscles tense I yank him in front of my own body. We collapse as one, he on top, taking the hail of bullets intended for me.
~excerpt from Wolfmen of the Congo: memoirs of a killer for hire,
Ten years ago, Martin Lochner, barely twenty, was going down fast. “It was still when Kabila and his son ravaged this country called Congo [DRC],” Lochner tells me in an interview. “I was running away from my workers class life and the [government-initiated] reduction of employment opportunities for whites.”
But most of all, Lochner was desperate to escape the combat wounds of his childhood, inflicted by a woman whom he felt had never forgiven him for coming into the world when she was still a child herself. “I crushed her teenage hopes. She was sixteen when she had me and blamed me for that. We are now excommunicated because every achievement of mine is injury to her. I am her guilt now.” Lochner pauses. “Maybe I went to war to get killed so that she could continue her life.”
Although “not a born killer,” Lochner signed up as a mercenary soldier for the Congolese army. Before long, Martin, who speaks Afrikaans, Dutch and now English, began specializing in escort work and the extractions of diplomats. “I was just a stupid kid running away from his circumstances.”
What young Martin would soon discover, however, was that there was no running away. Only an exchanging of one hell for another. “I, without thinking, brought war to me and not vice versa.”
In his soon-to-completed memoir, Wolfmen of the Congo, Martin writes:
“We were fighting the rebels deep in the jungles, but after months in the bush, we discovered an even more terrifying adversary: the gradual creeping in of madness.”
“Speak to any colonial French veteran and he may tell you what happens in those forests. We became murderers. We killed indiscriminately and became predators, animals without convictions or hope, no Geneva Convention, no mission… Our senses heightened and we lived from the jungle. We were not men anymore; we were stray wolves when they found us. Missing soldiers turned rabid and wild.”
The true horror of war, asserts Lochner, is more than the fact that killing occurs, but that how easily it comes to us. To have fought in a war means to have learned the terrible truth that every man–regardless of his religious or moral convictions–has inside him a killer’s heart. Accept that, and suddenly coming home is no longer escape. Indeed, from the taunting inside one’s mind there is no respite.
“Coming home everyone is superficial and suspect: Your mother, the priest, the quiet old lady down the street: all insurgents. Informants. Cannibals. The protective veneer is gone. Everything is dirty and evil.”
“This becomes your new meta-reality and you wander in the twilight and they in the sun. You understand how fragile and weak you all are.”
Yet, says Martin, who for many years afterward was suicidal but now writes passionately about what he has seen and what he has experienced, what can save us in the end is the urge to make amends. And so, this book of memoirs.
“Its simply a matter of the conscience…One must keep a vigil over the dead and the darkness. I myself died many years ago. I will never be that boy who played in the vineyard at home. But I can write. I write to survive and survive to write.”
~Deanna Elaine Piowaty is a free-lance writer based in Portland, Oregon, USA,
working with Martin Lochner on writing his book of memoirs,
Wolfmen of the Congo: memoirs of a killer for hire.
* * *
NEW YORK, NEW YORK, USA: poet Barbara Moore
I tread water
in this undirected
acquacade of death
you never seem
to tire of
You swim forward
from a siren’s braid
You hum her song
urging me to join in
“It’s myth or me,” I cry
over the cymbal clash
of waves laughing
I roll into shore
without looking back
© august 7, 2011 barbara moore
EASJR: You are well known, at least in our circle, as that poet with barb-sharp wit writing cynical anthems…
BM: Heh! I’m down with the “barb-sharp wit” and “anthem” parts. Very pleasing to see myself described in these terms. Humor is my favorite tool. I find it far more effective than preaching at people. What I attempt to do is paint psychological word pictures with which people can identify without feeling called out or criticized. The readers are given the option to make their own sense of what I have written and draw their own conclusions at the end of my poems, some of which are stories, others character studies, and still others brief observations. What most of them have in common is a little sting, usually at the close of the poem. I don’t identify much with “cynical” though. Like everyone else, I have faced and survived disappointments, but I would hate to think I have succumbed to cynicism. To me that suggests defeat. I might be cautious, but I am as trusting as reality allows, and I do believe in the power of love. I don’t believe it’s all we need (sorry Beatles) but without love in action, we have absolutely nothing. At least that’s the way it seems to me.
EASJR: What is your definition of humankind? Who is your ideal kind of human?
BM; Good question. I would like more emphasis on the “kind” in humankind. I think we have it in us as human beings to be truly magnificent, but our desires for immediate satisfaction and domination over others sidetrack us too easily. I see humankind as tiny specks in the universe that need each other in order to survive but are often repelled by each other at the same time. What is needed is a greater sense of cooperation. My definition of idealized humankind would be a people possessing imagination, intelligence, compassion and humor in degrees that varied enough to keep life interesting. I don’t know that I have a particular person I look to as an example of an ideal. I tend to idealize my best personal friends, who shall remain nameless. They know who they are.
EASR: Where do you think are you in the evolutionary process of the human mind?
BM: I see myself a scrape on a scab, as far as this is concerned. I think that is the most any of us are at this point, although there are some would-be pontificating emperors running around with too few clothes on.
EASJR: Your portraitures/caricatures of human characters are so full-bodied and thoroughly fleshed out, I look for them in the crowd. How much of your “characters” do you (have to) know before you write about them?
BM: In each portraiture lives a part of me or a part of someone I have known. The bare bones of these characters live in my head. I have an active imagination, maybe from growing up as an only child. One of my favorite pastimes is observing people sitting cross from me on a bus and composing entire histories and futures for them. The experience of creating stories from whatever memories I have stored in my brain, coupled with the mind snapshots I take of actual living breathing individuals I see before me, can provide an incredible head-rush. The idea of you looking for my characters in the crowd is a delight to me.
EASJR: Write to laugh, or laugh to write?
BM: I would have to say both, and laughter is almost interchangeable with living to me. Many times I write with the hopeful expectation of getting the readers to laugh along with me at some of the absurdities in life.
EASJR: You hate readings, yes? Which (a) philosopher, (b) spiritual leader, (c) actor, (d) poet, dead or alive, should do readings for you?
BM: Who would I like to do readings for me? Myself — with the ease I now lack but aspire to gain. Until that time, the living actor Laura Linney would do just fine.
EASJR: So much going on these days – sociopolitical uprising, economy, terrorism – name one that you find as way absurd beyond human comprehension.
BM: My most recent jolt came from what I saw in The Whistleblower, a film about human trafficking in post-war Bosnia. It was based on the experiences of Kathryn Bolkovac during her time as a peacekeeper there. I have never been able to process the reality that there is a market for people-property-sex slaves. The absurdity beyond human comprehension was heightened by the fact that the guilty parties were discovered but went unpunished due to diplomatic immunity. Any situation pitting the powerful against the powerless causes my eyes to spin around in my head.
EASJR: I am a spy watch camera in your wrist of which you have no idea. What do I see on a day-to-day basis?
BM: Ha! You would get bored very quickly and ask to be relocated to someone else’s wrist. Seriously. Not much excitement going on that doesn’t involve screens – the computer screen, the television screen, and movie screens. There are books, there is music, there is eating good food. There are long walks. There are rides on the bus and the subway. Oh, can you hear me also? Lucky you, because I sing all the time. Are you still here?
EASJR: If poetry were a human being, who do you think would fit the definition? What is the true essence of a poet.
BM: I could say that I see poetry as a crowd of international circus performers eager to impact lives or merely entertain themselves through their idiosyncratic tricks of the trade. But, truth be told, show me a human, and I’ll show you a potential poet. There are as many essences of a poet as there are poets, and there are as many poets as there are people. We are all poets. Some of us don’t know that yet, and sadly some of us will never know that.
EASJR: Really what’s laugh got to do with it?
BM: Laugh has everything to do with it. The ability to laugh — to find humor in even the most wretched of circumstances is paramount to our survival as a species. When we are able to laugh at ourselves and recognize how absurd we sometimes can be, we are freed up to make changes in our individual lives that impact those whose lives we touch, that impact those whose lives they touch…
The words want out
like a thirsty dog
at the back door
with a full bladder
© 2011 barbara moore
I hear your familiar knock
long short short long
and I know
how it would be
if I removed the chain lock
You would see me
as you always did
but I am legerdemain
impervious to your touch
immune to your beguilement
in a loved-out house
© 2011 barbara moore
The open book
She was an open book
with a broken binding
Many hands had held her
re-reading favorite passages
splitting her open wide
looking for something new
But there was nothing new
Merely the simple truth
told over and over
Only the syntax changed
© 2011 barbara moore
I am in a moment
I am in an isolated moment
I am staring across the subway car
at a woman falling out of her bathing suit top
She has a cross tattoo on her upper right arm
Her nose is pierced. Her bottom lip too
She is snuggling, burrowing really,
into her boyfriend’s neck with her head
He is dressed in L.L. Bean
He is reading The New York Times
I am in a moment
I am in a solitary moment
The subway stops. The doors open
A woman glides in and sits down
next to the bathing suit woman
She is dressed in a sari
She is wrapped up like a present
Her hands are naked, folded
The women sit side by side
They are in a moment
They are in a conjoint moment
They are staring across the subway car
They are staring at me
© 2011 barbara moore
© august 14, 2011 barbara moore
* * *
NEW YORK, USA: Carolyn Srygley-Moore, poet
Interview with Carolyn Srygley-Moore, Albany, New York:
Deanna Piowaty: Carolyn, of all your poems, “Miracles on Market Street: the unraveling” haunts me the most. That push-pull of boundary-setting. How does writing poetry help you with this?
Carolyn Srygley-Moore: “Market Street” is essentially the portrait of a nervous breakdown. Boundary setting was a main issue and still is. The conflict with writing poetry is that while you are forming aesthetic boundaries, you are transgressing emotional ones. Form praises boundary, meaning praises boundary, but stream of consciousness hungers for fluidity. Throughout time I have run into people who violated boundary not for the purpose of beauty, but for the sake of their own gain. That is the difference.
Miracles on Market Street: the unraveling
In the first miracle she found a job she could tether
taking care of kids with Downs Syndrome a girl named Lucy pushed
her into a velveteen pond.
In the second miracle the car’s engine caught on fire
an olive camouflage Dodge a poof of smoke on the highway
as the iron vultures circled overhead.
In the third miracle she gave notice on her apartment
& where she moved there was a man
who had no sense of boundary.
In the fourth miracle eating became an impossibility she was
locked in a cellar come nighttime to piss
in an iron pot.
In the fifth miracle there was nothing to say she stood in a room & the Man
swiveled in his chair & pointed at her & said
it must be hard dealing with that.
The final miracle embraced the voices jagged of unraveling
at the hospital they examined her brain with dyes & daggers & found
something in the blood an imbalance without measure.
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: In “Miracles in Court Street” you relate an incident that every parent fears but at some point is presented with: your child’s anger raging out of control to the point of becoming destructive. How difficult was this scene to write? Did if offer healing for yourself? Or a message of self-forgiveness for your readers?
Carolyn Srygley-Moore: “Court Street” relates an incident on July 4, this year. I think one must always place poetry in a realm as close to imagination as it is to the autobiography or fact. My daughter was angry, but most of all claustrophobic. We were very tired in the emergency room, it was the middle of the night; all is searing when one is exhausted, blood seems like more than blood, accident seems like fury. So yes, perhaps it was a means towards self-forgiveness, and if I was able to forgive myself, and the mess of accident, then perhaps the reader could experience the same effect.
Miracles on Court Street
In the first miracle the child pushed her fist through a wall of glass
& there was blood they drove to the emergency room like swirling sirens
like alto shrills released from the conch song aperture.
In the second miracle the emergency room played the trial
of a woman who had allegedly murdered her two year old child
placing duct tape over the pink pink mouth: they looked away.
In the third miracle they waited three hours in a small curtained chamber
as photographs wait in a locket the father answered when they telephoned home
he was caring for the lopeared rabbithole white rabbit.
In the fourth miracle the doctor arrived from Ghana with kindness he gauged
no sutures were necessary only butterfly strips of glue
& they laughed over his story of putting his hand through a window
to acquire his sister’s pink pink lollypop when he was a boy.
In the fifth miracle the child spoke to the mother loudly all the way home
in order to keep her awake while driving spoke loudly not accusing
for each was tethered by imperfections by tantrums of just fallen rain.
In the final miracle the father was waiting as cartoons played
X-Men & Avengers & the mother saw the broken glass had not been cleared
the mother sighed resignedly & went to sleep with guilt’s bloodhounds wailing.
Deanna Piowaty: In “Miracles of Painting the ash pink,” you write about the urge to bring beauty and perhaps even a sense of the preposterous to the lives of the Taliban. Do you believe that poets have a place in politics?
Carolyn Srygley-Moore: I believe poets have an important voice in politics. Although each poet’s stake is different, each voice is legitimate. I am not omniscient, but I do try to comprehend each viewpoint, while acting and writing toward what I think is right. Reading the news daily is an important element of my work; it is integral towards knowing what is going on in the world. And to give voice to the marginalized, that is the directive. In this particular poem I speak of the wish to shield a child from those hard facts of life. And yet they must be introduced to those factors, although, hopefully by a compassionate guide.
Miracles of Painting the ash pink
What is beauty in the eyes of the Taliban?
I would go & paint murals the size of elephants
on the streets of their abode
but war is as factual as beauty seems.
Executions in the town square:
Sun gleams on the round faces watching.
I once worked at a pizza parlor
& a boy told me how easy it is to strangle a chicken
he took me through it step by step.
I see no chickens
but in my friend Beth’s henhouse
the eggs piled in a blue bowl upon her blue counter.
My daughter grew up on a farm my friend says.
She knows what the facts of life are.
I hope not. I wonder.
Beauty is a strange thing.
I would paint the ash of the dead pink
if I had the means.
Deanna Piowaty: What struck me most when reading, “Miracles of the Street of Moth Echoes & Freaks, a dream,” is your acuity with figurative language. Since this is particularly challenging for me as a writer, I’m quite in awe of how brilliantly you weave together two such dissimilar concepts to create a deeper sense of both. How do these come to you? What writers inspire you?
Carolyn Srygley-Moore: Figurative language is how my mind operates. I think it is genetic (I’m not kidding). Of course one exercises the muscles one is given, while letting others atrophy, and I have worked to develop the figurative instinct. But my mind works and operates in a kind of jumble where the dissimilar coexist. Writers who inspire me are everywhere. My favorite classic writers are Milosz and Rimbaud and Williams. I tend to veer from the more destructive writers, though once they were my passion also. I come into contact with fresh voices on-line daily. It is very exciting, the work that is being accomplished.
Miracles of the Street of Moth Echoes & Freaks, a dream
In the first miracle she found herself on the street of freaks
eating mounded mint ice cream of a man she did not love nor covet
riding a wagon of stolen guerilla books into town.
In the second miracle her tongue was flayed
a cobra’s tongue echoing as the moth echoes against
pavement’s verity & night.
In the third miracle pink intestines of Jesus spilled over the frozen earth
with the innards of rabbits & hungry she ate of them as of the trail snails leave
when escaping the wrath of the more eager insect.
In the fourth miracle the sands turned black the intestines charred
all things were not true miracles were rather the magical legerdemain
we form & are formed by.
In the fifth miracle she found her name on the inner leaf of a manuscript
of sketches yet had not signed it herself it had been calligraphied
by a choir of oaks on the other side of the street.
In the final miracle all were released from the dreamt asylum
the event ot the encroaching world war yet leaders feigned it was not war
declared as the archived atoms fell & blue missiles took flight.
Deanna Piowaty: “Miracles of Glass Street” is astonishing in its beauty and power. What was your source of inspiration?
Carolyn Srygley-Moore: It is a poem about a calling, to life, to poetry. On looking back, it simply is a depiction of a woman confronting the “miracles” of having the responsibility to turn word and image into substance, for all of her days. It goes full circle: at the poem’s end, she accepts the mirror, even the child in the mirror, as ‘glass answers light.’ It is a very positive poem regarding the writer’s responsibility to gestate image into something of beauty and substance.
Miracles of Glass Street
In the first miracle there was complete departure from autobiography
she considered women who were leaders their hands trembling
like glass lanterns as the abyssal trains passed.
In the second miracle, the occurrence of death amazed
the coffins heaped with tons of red roses spilling over
the glass top for all coffins are made of glass.
In the third miracle clocks were stopped
mirrors were turned the other way
there was room for neither time nor reflection.
In the fourth miracle she knew she was pregnant
not with child but with image & would bleed for all of her days
for this cycle’s reason as if she put her belly through a window.
In the fifth miracle glass became trees
trees became voice
voice became her.
In the final miracle she stopped seeing reflection as betrayal
she could see the tomboy’s face with the white sailor cap
she could call herself by her nickname & answer
as glass answers light.
Deanna Piowaty: Tell me what led you to write this poem about Amy Winehouse.
Carolyn Srygley-Moore: My poem about Amy Winehouse regards not simply the singer/musician’s untimely death and the “curse’ that was spoken all over the place; but also at age 26, I nearly died and spent four days in intensive care. I was not in a coma, but heard the doctors whisper, the monitors beep, my mother weep. For three days they informed my family that I was going to die, and there was nothing they could do. One doctor leaned over the bed and said, “You must have really wanted to die, Carolyn.” The effect of untimely death on loved ones is horrendous. My mother had flashbacks for years of finding me, almost dead, in the bedroom clutching the stuffed black cat. Someone always discovers the body.
Miracles of surviving at age 27
Twenty seven is a harsh age.
Joplin died then. Cobain. Winehouse. The sky
is a butcher time is no thief but heroin may be.
I see her standing alone on a field of ice
without blood now
without blood to betray her.
The flesh peeled back like an avocado
the muscle in mounds glistening
there is no blood.
I am told when you do heroin you piss yourself.
You flail against the door & piss yourself.
You cannot see the sun.
The Updates are unconfirmed.
She was in her own home a good thing.
A photograph perhaps as she fell
held her eyes for an instant.
Not the Grammy. Outside, London
passed by draped in reds & grays.
Someone found the body.
Someone always finds the body.
They will feel that cold unyielding for years.
Deanna Piowaty: When you read about devastating events in the news does writing about it reduce some of that feeling of helplessness?
Carolyn Srygley-Moore: Yes. Writing reduces my sense of helplessness about what is going on in the world, in society, in my own life. It is definitely a way of taking control, of making beauty out of what is ugly, fashioning order from chaos. Writing poetry, like any art form, is a calling. “Miracles of a child’s babble” deals with the horrific massacre in Norway. Writing the poem did not make me feel better, except that I was witnessing, and in doing so, being responsible. But if you notice the voice in the poem you’ll see that the narrator is not morally superior to anyone.
Miracles of a child’s babble
It’s not supposed to make sense I say.
Who cares what the facts were? Trees stood
like guardian vigilantes observing all.
Is it supposed to be child’s babble
the white burst at the hairline almost breathing
nonsense into the past.
I sing. I always sing.
I understand the strangest things.
The carnival is a thing of laughter’s bone.
They say he was anti-Muslim I say.
What Islam is there in Norway?
We know nothing.
Skinned night flayed light.
There is a pause. My blood is corrupt as anyone’s.