Saturday, June 22, 2024

Grief Touched the Sky at Night – Poems by Gloria Mindock






Grief Touched the Sky at Night – Poems by Gloria Mindock

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Review By g emil reutter
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Gloria Mindock’s passion, raw and honest, holds Putin and his regime accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine since the beginning of the war. The poet gives voice to the voiceless, documents the atrocities committed by Russians who have lost all sense of morals and faith.
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Images and metaphors light up the page in the poem, Bells of Kyiv:
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The Churches are empty,
half standing
no bells to ring
.
In the wreckage,
Lays a cross no one
Has touched.
.
Jesus lays there.
Broken.
.
Is there a meaning to this?
Will he rise again
in this country?
.
Someone will pick him up,
carry him in their arms,
kiss the cross he is on.
.
Everyone needs to be protected,
to be loved.
Someone else will find his hand.
No nails binding the freedom
we all need.
.
The poet tells us of the mother who, At midnight, I hear my baby crying, / but she is gone to where there/ is no sin. She writes of families with no homes to return. Of bullet holes where there was once life, of the screams of men raped by Russians, a woman brutalized so badly she did not know if she would live. It is impossible to read the poem Memory without emotion welling up as the poet captures the pain of the captive:
.
I cannot open my mouth.
It is taped shut,
My hands tied behind my back, feet in chains,
Hurting my ankles, digging into skin, bone, cutting…
.
The sky is red.
The rivers red.
My heart is not.
.
The bombs go off.
I hear them getting closer and closer.
So loud, hurts my ears, they ring…
I cannot hear my thoughts…
.
Crying, scared, a senseless death awaits—
Why am I in this world at all?
.
The moon inspects the earth—
Does not like what it sees…
Murder, witnessed with its pale brightness…
.
I did not want to be erased like this.
Another number, a body, with no hope visible…
I bleed soundless.
.
Mindock captures the essence of survival and fear imposed by fascists who have invaded Ukraine. As the narrator states, Crying, scared, a senseless death awaits—. In this one line the poet captures the essence of the invasion and war—senseless death awaits— .
.
The poet writes of the destruction of the churches in the poem The Chapel and then in the poem, Exceeding:
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No one lives like I do/ No freedom, just flames/ Days of putting defeat in a vase. I am wishing for a miracle/ Remember, you always see me falling off ladders/ The Devil lives in all wounds
.
There is nothing contrived in Grief Touched the Sky at Night. This collection is an honest forthright poetic telling of the horrific genocide currently underway in Ukraine. The poet speaks out in this time as others normalize the violence and death. The poet makes it very clear through painful verse that this must not be the normal and reflects how the war has taken a toll on the innocent, oppressed in a nation that stands for freedom against the fascist Putin.
.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Grief-Touched-Sky-at-Night/dp/B0CLHJQQRP

Grief Touched the Sky at Night – Poems by Gloria Mindock
.

Review By g emil reutter
.
Gloria Mindock’s passion, raw and honest, holds Putin and his regime accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine since the beginning of the war. The poet gives voice to the voiceless, documents the atrocities committed by Russians who have lost all sense of morals and faith.
.
Images and metaphors light up the page in the poem, Bells of Kyiv:
.
The Churches are empty,
half standing
no bells to ring
.
In the wreckage,
Lays a cross no one
Has touched.
.
Jesus lays there.
Broken.
.
Is there a meaning to this?
Will he rise again
in this country?
.
Someone will pick him up,
carry him in their arms,
kiss the cross he is on.
.
Everyone needs to be protected,
to be loved.
Someone else will find his hand.
No nails binding the freedom
we all need.
.
The poet tells us of the mother who, At midnight, I hear my baby crying, / but she is gone to where there/ is no sin. She writes of families with no homes to return. Of bullet holes where there was once life, of the screams of men raped by Russians, a woman brutalized so badly she did not know if she would live. It is impossible to read the poem Memory without emotion welling up as the poet captures the pain of the captive:
.
I cannot open my mouth.
It is taped shut,
My hands tied behind my back, feet in chains,
Hurting my ankles, digging into skin, bone, cutting…
.
The sky is red.
The rivers red.
My heart is not.
.
The bombs go off.
I hear them getting closer and closer.
So loud, hurts my ears, they ring…
I cannot hear my thoughts…
.
Crying, scared, a senseless death awaits—
Why am I in this world at all?
.
The moon inspects the earth—
Does not like what it sees…
Murder, witnessed with its pale brightness…
.
I did not want to be erased like this.
Another number, a body, with no hope visible…
I bleed soundless.
.
Mindock captures the essence of survival and fear imposed by fascists who have invaded Ukraine. As the narrator states, Crying, scared, a senseless death awaits—. In this one line the poet captures the essence of the invasion and war—senseless death awaits— .
.
The poet writes of the destruction of the churches in the poem The Chapel and then in the poem, Exceeding:
.
No one lives like I do/ No freedom, just flames/ Days of putting defeat in a vase. I am wishing for a miracle/ Remember, you always see me falling off ladders/ The Devil lives in all wounds
.
There is nothing contrived in Grief Touched the Sky at Night. This collection is an honest forthright poetic telling of the horrific genocide currently underway in Ukraine. The poet speaks out in this time as others normalize the violence and death. The poet makes it very clear through painful verse that this must not be the normal and reflects how the war has taken a toll on the innocent, oppressed in a nation that stands for freedom against the fascist Putin.
.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Grief-Touched-Sky-at-Night/dp/B0CLHJQQRP

Friday, June 21, 2024

Red Letter Poem #212

 The Red Letters

 

 

In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.

To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.

 

––Steven Ratiner

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Letter Poem #212

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dikaryon

 

 

 

I study the thallus of mushrooms

to learn how to be a partner,

Becoming curious about mycelium,

tendrils boring underground,

chomping bacteria at the nut

of nuclei, dreaming of how, drowned, 

they flourish in the lightless earth 

and pop out as fruit to tease the sun.

 

Forming intricate patterns,

we never show our entire selves,

or need to fuse to be together,

the decay is vital, sucking what’s wasted 

and secreting sweet enzymes instead.

 

Once we are small enough

like tiny monomers,

I begin to branch towards you,

slender and threadlike as hyphae 

into an entangled ecology of arms

and legs, so intertwined 

we realize we must pop up

from time to time, gilled 

and sweating spores,

because the earth cannot contain

our union, and begins to need us.

 

 

 

                        ––Sara Cahill Marron 

 

 

 

 

"Poetry"

 

I, too, dislike it.
     Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
     it, after all, a place for the genuine.

                                                ––Marianne Moore

 

 

I have a friend who only occasionally reads contemporary poetry, and always with a certain gleeful disdain.  Remembering the “perfect beauty” of poets like Keats and Shelley from his college days, he’ll take pleasure telling me about a new piece he saw in the New Yorker or some prestigious literary magazine, questioning what possible value “this gibberish” can have.  “Half the time, I can’t even comprehend what they’re talking about, or why they’re raging on about it in such perplexing ways.  It’s like they’re speaking some new language––maddening!”  I commiserate, but offer to explain to him what I find valuable and, in fact, extremely compelling in even the most challenging poems––though I warn him in advance the answer will probably not be very satisfying.  My friend looks at me expectantly.  So this is what I tell him about the contemporary poem: half the time, I can’t even comprehend what they’re talking about, or why they’re raging on about it in such perplexing ways.  It’s like they’re speaking some new language––it’s maddening. . .and startling. . .and invigorating. . .and sometimes, as I read, I can almost feel the little neural tangles lighting up, connecting my mind to something beyond itself which, only a moment earlier, it could never have anticipated. 

 

Needless to say, my companion was unconvinced.

 

All this came to mind because I’ve been reading poetry by Sara Cahill Marron.  The author of three poetry collections, Sara serves as the Associate Editor of the fine journal, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, as well as Co-publisher of its Beltway Editions––all the while, working as a Federal prosecutor.  (Clearly Sara is also the inventor of a new device for multiplying the hours in each solar day.)  She’s certainly written lovely straight-forward lyrics, but at other times she’ll produce poems quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read.  Her 2022 book, Call Me Spes from MadHat Press, is a case in point.  The collection is framed as the reportage of an insatiable and self-aware AI operating system, sucking up language from every aspect of our lives.  It’s trying to construct a more encompassing model of human consciousness––even as the mortal speakers around it are struggling to comprehend the faulty machinery of their own fickle hearts.  When I received this new poem, “Dikaryon”, I was immediately mystified and entranced, making a detour over to Google Search for a quick crash-course in mycology and its obscure terminology.  In simplest terms, dikaryon refers to organisms (usually in the fungi family) that contain two genetically distinct nuclei in the same cell.  They’re capable “of participating in repeated cell division as separate entities, even before their ultimate fusion.”  An intriguing concept: two ‘selves’ within one body, and the furious energies that result.  For Sara, it’s an icon for something in our complex human nature––or perhaps the poem is depicting what takes place between two love-bound beings amidst moments of passion.  I don’t know for certain, and don’t feel the need to know––because I continue to be captivated by the poem’s deepening mystery.  Who would have ever imagined terms like mycelium and hyphae occurring within a lyric poem––or that such a text would seethe with a palpable sexual tension?  When I’m willing to be engaged by verse such as this––no matter how impenetrable it might seem at first glance––I end up discovering new territory within the thicket of my own consciousness, a place which offered no apparent inroads. . .until now.

 

Perhaps it’s time to update Marianne Moore’s sly and often-quoted ars poetica: Indeed, I, too, dislike it––and love it––all at the same time.  Dizzying, perhaps, but not inappropriate when I think of all the ways some contemporary poems insinuate themselves into my consciousness––how they’re capable of elevating the heart rate, inflaming the neural pathways, all while provoking what William Blake referred to as the energy of “Eternal Delight”.  For me, that perfect contempt arises from all the myriad ways poems––traditional and cutting edge––crash-and-burn, chasing the elusive Grail of ‘the new.’  And yet I am continually humbled by certain qualities that seem to be integral throughout the diverse artform: the desire to continue investigating our confounding human nature; a willingness to embrace even the genre’s own contradictory impulses––brutal honesty embedded within pure artifice.  But mainly, I find myself moved (not often, but often enough) by poetry’s determination to speak honestly to a real or imagined listener, trusting that somehow, within this intensified musical language, the and we will––if not fuse––then at least regard each other with fresh eyes, producing new possibilities in the process.  Moore reluctantly discovers in poetry a place for the genuine.  I feel compelled to add: discovers––hidden within our own egocentric, fearful, easily-distracted selves––a corresponding place for authenticity.  All this, spurred on by something as simple as inky signs across a page.  How can you not embrace an artform that aspires to all that?

Monday, June 17, 2024

Poet Joey Gould: A non-binary poet with an unconventional body of work.



Recently I caught up with Joey Gould, a well-admired poet in Massachusetts and beyond. Gould is all about breaking the traditional labels that have been entrenched in our society.  From their website,


"Joey Gould is the author of The Acute Avian Heart (2019, Lily Poetry Review). Joey is a long-time contributor to Mass Poetry, for which they assist the Poetry Festival Planning Committee, lead workshops for Student Day of Poetry events around Massachusetts, write web articles for MassPoetry.org, & judge slams for Louder Than a Bomb MA. Their work has appeared in Paper Nautilus, Drunk Monkeys, The Compassion Anthology, Memoir Mixtapes, & District Lit, amongst others. They have twice been nominated for Bettering American Poetry and once for a Pushcart Prize. Since their first public reading as a fellow of Salem State University’s Summer Poetry Seminar, they have performed in The Poetry Circus, Elle Villanelle’s Poetry Bordello, and The Poetry Society of New York’s Poetry Brothel. In addition to their Mass Poetry work, they have taught workshops for the Salem Poetry Seminar & Salem Lit Fest. They write 100-word reviews as poetry editor for Drunk Monkeys. Most important, they like Pusheen & painting their nails."

Doug Holder:
You have been with the Mass. Poetry Festival for a long time now. What do you view as your most important contributions?


Joey Gould:
I would like to think that my work at Mass Poetry resulted in poetry reaching people. I think first of a Student Day of Poetry workshop I taught wherein a teenage student wrote a poem that resulted in a stunned silence and then a standing ovation from the class. That's the power of poetry, in the excitement and the community poetry can create. I also fondly recall sitting at the Mass Poetry check-in table at the entrance to the Peabody Essex Museum, listening to headliner Nikky Finney read to a packed crowd, and then hearing people describe how incredible the reading was. I think, foremost, Mass Poetry's mission that I strive to embody is the cultivating of passion for poetry in Massachusetts and beyond. The festival has always been carried by a community of committed volunteers who want to hear more poems.



DH: You have led a number of poetry workshops over the years. What is your method? What do you emphasize?


JG: In my workshops, I build a collective understanding by sharing some poems and asking what the group thinks poetry is and can achieve. I try to listen and transcribe more than force my own understanding on the cohort. I've run many distinct workshops for second graders up to adults, and perhaps my favorite is "Ode, Snap", where we read a few poems (including Ross Gay's "Ode to the Flute" and Ada Limón's "How to Triumph Like a Girl") and then start a poem with a palimpsest of Limón's first line: "I like ____ best". It works for all ages and it highlights that poetry can be, out of many things, an expression of thankfulness or joy.



DH: You have had a poetry book out from the Lily Press, " The Acute Avian Heart." I read you are a birdwatcher—what do our feathered friends teach you?


JG: Birds have many lessons to teach. They're social. Aesthetically, they're often lovely and musical. Music calms and focuses me, and bird song itself inspires me. Wood thrushes can harmonize with themselves! Visually, they can be stunning. Have you seen a cardinal on the fence post in the middle of a snowy field? They teach me how to observe. Birdwatching is a way to slow my neurodivergent self down. They also have deep symbolic and metaphorical value, both in collective consciousness and in my own lived experience. Here, I'm thinking of "the bluebird of happiness" and my personal obsession with starlings, who are master mimics but have a reputation as household pests. So, like anything that goes in my poetry, any bird is useful on a few different levels: as sound/phoneme, as an anchor for the poem in an image that reader might know, and as a cultural reference to the catalogue of things a bird symbolizes. Not that I always know the totality of meanings any image, any bird will suggest. Once, after a reading, an audience member told me they think of their mother every time they see a robin. That's a lesson--that something you see every day can have many diverse meanings to another person.



DH: You describe yourself as a non-binary poet. How is this sensibility reflected in your own work?


JG: My queerness is much of my public identity, partly because it's inherent to me and partly because it's how much of the world might either judge me or simply classify me. Calling myself "queer" reclaims the word from people who called me that word as an insult in my youth. My second book, Penitent>Arbiter, is a treatise on the arbitrary way binaries are constructed. Is every person a man or a woman? Is everything right or wrong? Is everyone a penitent (criminal/wrongdoer) or an arbiter (judge/injured party)? In the first poem, I introduce a non-binary character before any gendered characters. Western society's many binary constructions (right v left, Black v white, religious v secular) fail spectacularly under the least scrutiny. It's also something we all struggle with in conflict: I'm right, you're wrong. You hurt me, I punish you. When is real life ever that simple?



DH: Tell us about your connection with the legendary, bohemian poet Joe Gould.  Gould was related to Robert Lowell-- a confessional poet--do you consider your work confessional?



 JG: I love this question. The Joe Gould who graduated from Harvard in 1911 and hung out with Greenwich Village luminaries such as e.e. cummings and Alice Neel has no relation to me, but one of my first awakenings to poetry was my sister bringing home cummings's no thanks, which contains a hexameter sonnet that starts: "little joe gould has lost his teeth and doesn't know where/ to find them". What a fascinating first line!! Who was this person? It turns out he was a fascinating man who was chronicled in The New Yorker, the process of which became a movie, Joe Gould's Secret. Some of my friends ask what my secret is or how my "Oral History of Our Time" is coming along when I see them. His life has become part of my story. In my early poet days, one hundred years after Gould's graduation from Harvard, I wrote a set of poems about how I'm not the first poet with my name. It's a strange thing to contend with.


I feel like I am a confessional poet, in the sense of what my friend Bleah Patterson calls "surreal confessional...a blending of the century old surrealist and mid-century confessional forms".I often set confessional speakers based on my own self in places like the Sinai during exodus or a woodshed during a thunderstorm in the 1800s to explore how I would act as a character in the situation.



DH: Any future projects?


JG: My work in progress, mt desert, imagines a modern version of "The Binding of Isaac" set in a surreal version of Acadia/Bar Harbor, Maine. I spent five months in Knoxville, writing at Sundress Academy for the Arts' Firefly Farms. I wrote about the sheep on the farm and the trails through the woods. It's been magical, and now that I'm back in Massachusetts I have to add what I wrote to the existing manuscript. Firefly Farms is where I met Patterson. I'm lucky to have had the space and time, and hopefully I put together a book that furthers our collective understanding of fatherhood, especially a fatherhood acculturated to monotheistic religion, often problematically.


I'm also working on a set of math poems, which hope to portray how math underpins beauty in music, space, and theory. There are poems that use math as a metaphor, and that's cool, but I also want the interest focus to be math itself. There are so many interesting ideas in topology, perspective geometry, wheel theory.


I work with the Boston chapter of The Poetry Brothel. Our lovely recurrent performance space in Somerville is upstairs at Bow Market. I'm lucky to collaborate with such incredible poets, artists, musicians, practitioners, and dancers.




Study: Mom on One of the Last Fine Days of Fall
by Joey Gould

Mom looks small in the yard
with her tall thin rake sweeping
up the trees as they crumple
apart, her hopeless defense
against the fade of fall,
& I help her bag the stricken
giants’ guts. The day is chill--
as crisp as a glass of wine, nearly
bitter like anything savory--
so we’re locking up the world
for winter & then, when she goes in
there are boxes, always
more boxes of his stuff
to give or file or toss,
but at least she can be outside
that mess for a while longer,
trading the extinguished light
for the waning reds & oranges
of fall. Raking as a tribute--
not a chore—collecting
deaths, making them seem
containable & neat.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Red Letter Poem #211

 The Red Letters

 

 

In ancient Rome, feast days were indicated on the calendar by red letters.

To my mind, all poetry and art serves as a reminder that every day we wake together beneath the sun is a red-letter day.

 

––SteveRatiner

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Letter Poem #211

 

 

 

 

 

I Get to Witness My Father Perform Surgery

 

 

 

Frayed artery,

And my father’s fingertips

Squirm like larvae in the blood,

Go under, and hatch into a pulse.

The heart monitor sutures

A future across the screen.

 

In an hour, then daily,

The man will be allowed to awaken.

How often is blood

Soothed like a child?
How often are we saved

By what we can’t remember?

 

 

 

                                  ––Jack Stewart

 

 

 

They’re not actual people, our parents––or so we might find ourselves believing as young children, desperately trying to comprehend the world into which we’ve been born.  They’re more like cosmology, the overarching design of the universe; they’re our geography, daily weather, bulwark against all threats, not to mention source of endless fascination and entertainment.  In addition to providing the obvious necessities of survival, parents (if we’re fortunate) establish that invisible bubble of love that engenders in us a sense that our presence, too, might have an actual purpose in this existence.  But as we grow, our relationship to these household demigods can’t help but evolve.  For most of us there is something of a cyclical nature to our assessments: how repressive, abrasive, arbitrary, tragically uncool Dad and Mom seem; and, a few years later (or months, or even hours), they are suddenly the epitome of wisdom, an oracular presence we approach with something like awe.  “When I was a boy of fourteen,” according to the famous comment attributed to Mark Twain, “my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

 

Jack Stewart’s father served as the Chief of Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic until his untimely death at age 53.  He was one of the pioneers of kidney transplantation, and the Cleveland team was featured in Life Magazine for their accomplishments.  As a 16-year-old, the poet was able to experience first-hand the effect his father’s work had on the world around him.  This, to me, is one of the most profound moments in our psychic development: when we are finally able to perceive our parents as individual human specimens: flawed, but marvelously complex and still-evolving, with––and this part is most crucial––projects and passions at the core of their own lives that predate our arrival.  Reading Jack’s new poem, I was impressed by the extraordinary power of implication at work in these two intense six-line stanzas.  Witnessing his father’s surgery seemed to alter his understanding of the man, of the father-son bond, and perhaps the human condition as well.  The poem begins with mortal jeopardy, yet marvels at the uncanny skills we’ve developed to safeguard our precious lives.  How unexpected is the poet’s description of his father’s efforts––“fingertips/ Squirm like larvae in the blood,/ Go under, and hatch into a pulse.”  Instead of immanent death, it suddenly feels as if new life is burgeoning, a second chance.  Did you feel the jolt of those two rhyming trochees–– sutures and future––their rhythm imitating the suddenly-renewed heartbeat that we see depicted on the monitor?  And toward the poem’s culmination, Jack leaves us with a rather startling question: “How often are we saved/ By what we can’t remember?”  Is he thinking of the anesthetized patient?  Or all the instances in our unconscious lives, from infancy to old age, when we’re rescued by unseen hands?  Most of our days, we’re only barely aware of who and what are responsible for our survival.  Perhaps we receive some illumination when we, in turn, become parents, charged with keeping some other fragile little being alive. 

 

Jack was educated at the University of Alabama and Emory University, and became a Brittain Fellow at The Georgia Institute of Technology.  His first collection, No Reason, appeared in the Poeima Poetry Series in 2020.  He’s been widely published in literary journals like Poetry, the New York Quarterly, and the Iowa Review, the work garnering nine nominations for the Pushcart Prize.  He now teaches in Fort Lauderdale at the Pine Crest School where he directs the Talented Writers Program.  When he first sent me “I Get to Witness…”, I told Jack I’d save it for when Father’s Day came rolling around.  Perhaps the piece will prompt a visit with your own dad––if that’s still a possibility––a chance to appreciate once again what of his life is now enmeshed in yours.  And if that is no longer an option, maybe the poem can be the occasion for a few minutes’ imagining about the numerous broken places inside us, many of which were healed by a father’s deep attention.

 

 

 

 

Red Letters 3.0

 

* If you would like to receive these poems every Friday in your own in-box – or would like to write in with comments or submissions – send correspondence to:

steven.arlingtonlaureate@gmail.com

 

 

To learn more about the origins of the Red Letter Project, check out an essay I wrote for Arrowsmith Magazine:

https://www.arrowsmithpress.com/community-of-voices

 

and the Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene

http://dougholder.blogspot.com

 

For updates and announcements about Red Letter projects and poetry readings, please follow me on Twitter