Archive for the ‘Mary Margaret Alvarado’ Category

Mary Margaret Alvarado: The Myth of Safety

The Myth of Safety

This is not an industry and you are not a product. This is a triangle breathing.

Chessa means peace. Bianca means peace. Irene Frieda Godfrey and Inga mean peace. Wilfred means desiring peace. Friedhelm means peace helmet. Hedwyn means far peace.


When I say Lucy Lucy—lightlightlight—I mean a nest that’s dark. I mean Death: Don’t.

The pulped stuff of a human who loves. Cruciform. All of it.

When I say Lou I mean translated. I mean who did I think I was.

I woke up dead. I had not been. Often so alive. Lost all that flesh in the night. I asked for November, for May. I began to want what’s plain.

I was shaking off the bed. But you were in my arms. The shaking was convulsing. But you were in my arms. Scared that I would drop you, still you are in my arms. I had no use for the crook of them. I do.

This is who did I think I was. This is Moses had to drape his face. This is my face erased.

Shut up British Petroleum. Shut up a little commerce. Shut up wanters. What could you want. This is Moses, draped. This is my dying face.

Shut up real vampires. Shut up internet. Here comes a moose like eight centuries walking.

With this poem, and with gratitude and appreciation, we bring our week of featuring Mia Alvarado to a close. Thank you Mia, thank you poetry, welcome back July. — AS


Living Review: Hey Folly by Mary Margaret Alvarado

(Note: a living review is one intended to occur over the lifespan of a book — one naturally encounters a book of poems over a year or a decade rather than a day or a week, in which sense to fully review a book for purchase shortly after it appears can seem a disingenuous proposition, if a valuably disingenuous proposition. This review form is intended as an alternative, a record or representation of one reader’s ongoing relationship with a book. It is meant to expand and alter with time, each response integral to the whole and thus not replaced but amplified or reframed by a later thought. Check back. –AS)


(available here)

There is something off-kilter about this book of poems, something singular in the relationships of part to part, speaker to world, familiar stance to bizarre extrapolation. A poem here bristles, not defensively, but in the sense of a motion made. It crackles with wit and sonic explosion, twists of diction and sudden bursts of rapture. A poem here is an experience worth waking up for, worth being knocked off your feet by.

In the opening lines of the opening poem, “[The Chapter of the Inner Apartments],” an instance: “I’d been on that hill, grazing. / It was time to return / to my cell. I returned / to my cell. Got so still / I flew. I wore incorporeal / backseam silks, jessamine / slathered my nape.” The first four lines establish a familiar sort of speaker in a familiar sort of condition — it’s an imagined situation, not to be taken literally; the lines move in half-sentences, the sentences move responsively; the line breaks set up a micro-drama of small pauses. While it’s a pleasing sequence, there’s nothing unusual in it. In the last quoted sentence, something shifts. A particularity emerges — what are backseam silks? who says jessamine, much less slathers it on a neck? I’m turned around here by the tight-hewn sound of the language, turned into the face of some unexpected details that tell me this speaker is not ordinary.

The speaker seems aware of this oddness — later in the same poem, “But I was weird / against the door / when I got together / my usual refrain / addressed to a pomade / composite named Frank.” Now there’s a way in which oddness can become a sort of badge, and rapidly lose its genuine quality thereby. In much of the poetry I read, an address to a pomade composite named Frank would be something far less than promising. In these hands, it becomes, oddly, a springboard to a sort of beatific rapture of an ending to the poem: “all I wanna do / is eat dinner rolls & get / beatific” leads to “How one & beatific — flash / blindness, a groping / — how one for one thing / is what we get & get”. Now where did that come from? How did I get to this wonder from that pomade composite? I wouldn’t mind staying a little while in this kind of jarring complement of tones, and in the following 80 pages, I’m able to do just that.

There’s a similar skewed familiar in the final poem of the book that I’d like to think more about, but will note for now. In a form borrowed from Alice Notley — “”Her velvet shed” “She eats sedges” / “Her feet paddle” “We are unsettled” “By the fact of her!”” — the small addition of regular usage of the exclamation point makes a gigantic difference in how I read these lines compared with the lines in Notley’s “The Descent of Alette.” What it adds is a weirdness, a counterpoint to the hard-breathing flattening effect of the insistent quotation marks. So that the poem can get silly — “”They are beatboxing” / “& play accordion” “as if each is” “A haunted Balkan” — while retaining a touch of desperation.


What kinds of effort make for awareness?

What amount of a hot book is hustle, getting out on the road and the internet enough to make other poets, other readers, take notice and push you further out into the world?

I ask out of a lifelong concern for the books I encounter in libraries, the nearly anonymous single volumes of poetry, never checked out in two decades. One or two per author, anonymous presses, and the covers say they teach somewhere.

I ask because this book is so much better than those books are, so much more alive, humming with the singular perspective of a strange and lovely sensibility.

And yet, with all respect to the publishers, who did a good job with this book, I’d never heard of Dos Madres press until I received this book. When I look at their website I see that, in spite of the fact that Hey Folly came out mere months ago, it’s already moved off their list of new releases into catalogue obscurity. One has to click three times to get to it. It hasn’t been reviewed anywhere.

Here’s a book that anyone reading it would agree demands acclaim and a wider audience. Because this is the week of the infamous Harper’s article that launched a hundred stirring rebuttals, here’s a book that would serve as a counterpoint to that thin and unhappy appraisal of our vibrant poetry — if only one could find it.

A beautiful and accomplished book. Published by a small independent press. Whose author is a mother of young children, who can’t — just can’t — hit the road to promote her book without making sacrifices that any parent will tell you aren’t worth making. And which author would likely say anyhow, that kind of promotion isn’t the point.

There must be some way to alter that equation. To make certain this book gets to the readers who need it. Who will recognize the strangeness of this poetry, and its value.

Public Letter: Mary Margaret Alvarado

Hello dear Melissa, Andy, Jay, and Zach, by which I mean “Dear Editors”:


This is my “public letter about putting together my book, and [the] attendant feelings.” I feel so much, so much. Like this: I feel that I would like to eat dinner with you, and call it supper. And then, the very next day, I feel that I would like to eat lunch with you, and call it dinner. After that, we could have Blancmange, a cornstarch pudding, cooked from a recipe Atoo1 left me, with these notes: “This is the dessert that Jo of ‘Little Women’ often carried to Laurie, her frail neighbor.” She found it, she says, so romantic.

I find paper mobiles romantic, and Prosecco, and the Texas two-step, and very dark soil.

What else am I feeling, you ask? I feel grateful for Eric Gill, that problematic man, who painted the lettering for a bookstore’s sign, and later carved it, beginning with the H and the O. I have loved Gill Sans Serif for a long time. It is as quiet as dots. Edwardian Script2 is new in my life, and its flounciness makes me feel like I’ve had three champagne mimosas and a standard poodle just walked into the room, where the napkins are folded into swans, and all-you-can-eat cantaloupe is on the house, and it’s spring and no one is dying.

Have you seen the ceiling of Union Terminal in Cincinnati? I would like for you to see it. The colors are an unexpected, 70s-ish/celestial marriage of avocado and silver and yarrow and a host of oranges; it’s rather like a pagan sun, or The Good as Plato describes it, and also it is circles, and circles give such peace. Union Terminal is Art Deco; it was a train station; it is a half dome; by way of pen and appropriation, it is D.C. Comics’ Hall of Justice; and the outside looks like a radio with arms. Its ceiling is the loveliest ceiling of all ceilings.3 The fact that it was made as a public work, in a public space, for public transportation, makes me love America, and 1933, and 1980, and you.

Sometimes, when I read The Showings4 I thought, “Man: that girl needs to get out and get some air!” Other times, like when the anchoress describes how “the purse” of our bodies is opened and shut, I thought: oh my, huh, wow, and wow. Epigraphs are tricky, and at some point I had, like, twelve. I think I was writing a page-a-day calendar. This one is a good one: “We have scarcely broken into our hoard.”5 And I like this too: “Small, lofty, straggling, thick, that is as to foliage, dark, light, russet, branched at the top; some directed towards the eye, some downwards; with white stems; this transparent in the air, that not; some standing close together, some scattered.”6 That’s about trees.

Trees do not make a notable appearance in this book, but there are other living eloquences that help us breathe. For instance: mushy waves, and ruby stalks, and a snowcube caked in pitch, and a harlequin mantis shrimp. There are some feral pumpkins on page 13. On page 40, there is moon balm, moon meringue, moon droppings and moon bones. The caliche, when it appears, is cracked.

These poems were written primarily in pen on yellow legal pads. After several pages were filled, I’d make checkmarks next to what might have merit; those places became the first drafts of most lines. The book starts with the chick speaker as a failed hermit, who happens to look like the flying woman in Marc Chagall’s “Over the Town,” and is praying to a god named Frank, and recollecting certain parties, and longing for hot dinner rolls, and working on getting more singular, which is what paying attention demands. From there I tried to figure out the key, and move to its cadenza. Or I’d slur in the musical sense. Or I’d see how a particular texture or thing needed to announce itself again. The movement between desolation and consolation. The arc of a mixtape that means to mess you up. Several series and three parts, in the middle of which7 the via positiva hinges to the via negativa, which is, I think, the better way. The first part is the loudest, the second is the quietest, the last ends with the animals overtaking the city, which is a comic ending in the Greek sense, and is a resurrection by natural means, and makes reference to the artist renamed Prince.8

It is a first book, and I like that about it. It is a book on paper, and there are no electronic copies, and I like that very much too. I feel grateful that my book of poems is home9 and done. I feel grateful that this creates a strong disincentive to revise. Sometimes something happens and I’m like: Holy shit! You’re alive! And I’m alive! And the dead are with us! And there are all these COLORS. This book reminds me of that.

Now a marching band is invading our street, and they’ve got drums and whistles10. The baby’s gonna wake, with her sweet smashed cheeks.

Thank you and so long!



1 Hey Folly is dedicated to my grandmother, Atoo.

2 The book’s text is set in Gil Sans Serif; its title is in Edwardian Script.

3 A photograph of the ceiling of Cincinnati’s Union Terminal is on the cover.

4 The epigraph is from The Showings by Julian of Norwich.

5 Repeated throughout Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.

6 Leonardo daVinci, Notebooks, “Trees.”

7 Pgs. 44-45.

8 Purple rain!

9 With the loveliest, loveliest human being of an editor.

10 They do this often: cf. pg. 6.