Posts Tagged ‘poem’

The New Census: Darcie Dennigan

Our feature of Rescue Press’ new anthology of contemporary poetry, The New Census, continues this week and next with new poetry by contributors to the anthology. We continue today with a poem by Darcie Dennigan. You can purchase the anthology here.

The Ambidextrous

All poems should bear the title “Reasons for Living Happily…” …That was what X, the retired exterminator, quoted to me one night when we were… moving… from one warehouse to the next… crates… for… the Resistance… The Resistance… We all… I… worked undercover… toward… for… whatever the daily email… urged… Till the night… while emptying the sea back into a sack… the police got… At the trial months later… I drew Magistrate Beverly… it was information he was after… The Magistrate sat on the pulpit… stroking his pet beaver… Tell me he said… What the Resistance is against… I told him… I went right ahead…! Four times I said conglomerate… I got very specific… for instance…! … for instance…! for instance…! But perhaps broad strokes would… So I said We are against… everything… but at the same time we love the whole thing… We are against… the fat white men snoring… But not all of them… no… yes… All of them… But… during… Magistrate Beverly had fallen… the magistrate was sleeping… Now awoken… Now again beaver stroking… Will the court stenographer please read back the testimony…? Yes Your Honor The Resistance is against Alzheimer’s charity whales and the Ottoman Empire… How extraordinary… The courtroom denizens were all smiling… congratulating… What a machine… What a… They… they… could mishear anything… And their smiling… their smiling… I was about to say they smiled from ear to ear… but no… they… from hair to hair… They had no ears…

                And… I now noticed… the magistrate’s beaver… had no testicles…

                Upon my release… they gave me a smile… and a Popsicle… Back home I tried to write a poem… about… their smiling… “Reasons for Living Blithely…” I copied it 100 hundred times… on my at-home copy machine… taped the copies to the walls of my bedroom… Smiles from lair to lair… I lay there… beneath the poems… in bed… I stroked the pet rat with my left hand… the sleeping child with my right… We in the Resistance had to keep working… till no one living was… young… or young enough… to believe in reasons…


The New Census: Chris Martin

Our feature of Rescue Press’ new anthology of contemporary poetry, The New Census, continues this week and next with new poetry by contributors to the anthology. Today’s poet is Chris Martin. You can purchase the anthology here.


So the bag

on your head is exactly

like the bag on

mine. That’s how it’s

always been. One bag

for every head

in every city on Earth.

A measure to shore

against the face’s simple


anarchy. Preempt

behavior. History

of the bag hinges

on the dominion

of Persona, how Western

identity (before the bag) was

hopelessly face-shaped, how

the oval theater of the face

ruined the world. Palliative,

antidote, rescue: bag. In order

for one to be

oneself: a bag. Exile

Proteus, you know?

Or spread

him so thin he begins

to form a bag sea

where we float in circles.

The thing is, you

already know all of this.

You have been wearing the bag

your whole life. And yet

you don’t

understand and I know you

don’t because you ask

to see my face. My very

own face. And because I love

you, because I would

also be nothing

without you, I have to think

very seriously about this and explain

everything once

again. “I only have a face,”

I say, “if you haven’t

seen it.” But that doesn’t seem

to be enough. I can

almost feel your eyes

tearing through

my bag. “What if you don’t

like my face?” I ask.

And of course you swear you

will and that the heart will

hold sway so

that it could never truly matter, owing

to the deep root

of love. This does not

convince me. “Once you’ve seen

it,” I say, “it will cease

to be my face. It will either

be your face or it will be some endless

parade of faces I can’t

control.” Your eyes rip

and slash. “What about the inevitable

contagion?” I can see the vein

in your neck lift

your bag like a tiny fist

knock knock

knocking. “If I take it off

will you promise never

to remove yours, no matter

what I say or do or

become?” You nod and your nodding

is eerily fluid and my hands

are burning and before

I can change my mind I take

off my bag.

The New Census: Dora Malech

Our feature of Rescue Press’ new anthology of contemporary poetry, The New Census, continues this week and next with new poetry by contributors to the anthology. We begin today with Dora Malech. “Progress” will be featured in the fifth season of Motionpoems, premiering at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis on May 22. You can purchase The New Census here.


Already failed resolution to spend less
time staring at squares, enrectangled up
in pixels, justified prose, polarized glass.
Data entry, no exit. Lint trap’s just that.
Geometry that gestures toward itself
or not at all as in the inward wave
that in one culture simply greets and in
another draws one closer. Figures that
in my eyes it would beckon. Patterns swim
familiar but no one’s there to take
an order and connecting the dots in
the vitreous humor makes a child’s
stakeless game, a “now let’s say” to made-up
playmate (and say that which we say it is
it is until we tire or some other
specter floats aview). Are you saying
you’d rather queue for keeps? Phantom limn
a charged perimeter? Wasting time
no matter but on what (all-important
distinction between phenomenon and
illusion). Mind’s the former, sure, but great
stakes shaking no one’s boughs’ but mine but mine
tracing, racing, generating orders,
families, genera
the likes of which
the earth has yawned and swallowed in its sleep.
How to take a turn to lean a body
through not to the execution? As if
we could adapt the course by tricking
out the question, force feed fattening
infinity on its own tail. Wakes into
passing scenery, a world of ramifications
blinking Darwinian landscaping escaping
into can’t see for the topiary signing
line-on-line perpendicular, means ends.

Isabel Balee: from “Extrications”

I’m glad to have an opportunity today to present some new poetry by Isabel Balee, a New Orleans native who studies at Brown University. Things I associate with Isabel, aside from poetry: great sunglasses, excellent music. — AS

from Extrications

Exhume the fool they make
of their bone-space.

Unsuffering liars.

Mistakes of freedom.

Contours of the night
so pretty that a boy tap dances
to that music again: the intrusion
of hallelujah snowflakes

dissolving wet streets        O wonderful

holy book of your faces

of my faces

of slippery flakes


Deliver me from the afternoon
throwing gravel at my faces
they don’t happen to change
so much yet and will be
remembered differently later
when I am another person
opening my fingers
to hold a pair of binoculars and look,
look at all the people.


Is that you at the gate
of moving silver
withdrawn from this believing
to be true—it doesn’t matter
that we are explanations
inhabiting bodies, beams
will bottom out
their lights, he said,
coming off his horse.


Exhume the moment from tiny florets
bending rain              and all
blue behavior of mudbricks.

Down, windows.

The sad story.
The saddest truth ignored.


So long stranger
parting rhapsodies.
Take my job. Take my dress.
Hand me my idiot
and remove my ghost.


Deliver me the clock tower
in all its parts
I want to touch its fist
sticking out and armed
in the immensity of night
of snow’s talent for disappearing over
rooftops by the skin of the moon
for miles and miles              disappearing

Philadelphia Poets: Emily Abendroth, Pt. 2

Emily Abendroth, whose poems appeared on THERMOS last Friday, speaks briefly here on being a poet in Philadelphia. This place-based feature, curated by Zach Savich, will continue occasionally in the future, with poems accompanied by brief commentary. Look for Emily’s first full-length book of poems, ]Exclosures[, out from Ahsahta in May. — AS

I’ve never considered myself to be a regional writer or to fit into the category of a “writer of place,” at least not to the degree that one thinks of such categories as entailing a committed affiliation to residency as a significant component of one’s artistic identity. For lack of a better way to say it, I’m definitely more a “poet who lives in Philadelphia,” as opposed to a “Philadelphia poet.”


Far more than the geography and natural environment of Pennsylvania, it is my engagement with the various communities of Philadelphia writers/artists, community organizers, human rights activists, and friends/comrades that have most impacted the shape of my artistic practices here in this city.

Further, the current dynamics of Pennsylvania politics profoundly shape my understanding of the existent obstacles that preclude our achievement of individual and collective health, well-being, self-determination, and, ultimately, emancipation (be it cognitive or physical in nature). This, in turn, informs my sense of what art has a mandate to attempt to, first, make legible and, then, to confront, even as the means and modes of art are very different from those of traditional organizing. I don’t by any stretch think this is art’s only mandate but, from my perspective, it is a primary one of them.

In the context of Pennsylvania, this includes such life-destructive details as: the widespread implementation of hydraulic fracking which is, as I write, poisoning our watershed and ourselves for millennia into the future; the insufferable fact that spending on prisons has once again outpaced spending on higher education for several annual budgets running; the dovetailing reality that this state has more people who were condemned as youth to sentences of life without the possibility of parole (or “death by incarceration”) than anywhere else in the world; and the monstrous truth that our current Governor prefers to leave tens upon tens of thousands of people uninsured and without health care access of any kind, rather than to accept the federal expansion of Medicaid to poor people.

I don’t mean to say that these intentionally engineered calamities of social neglect and outright violence either directly predict or dictate the form/voice of my poetic work in a narrow instrumentalist or journalistic way. That would be, I believe, a demoralizing defeat for the creative imagination. My poetry is not “about” these things in that strictly documentary sense; however, its concerns and contours are absolutely invaded by and responsive to those realities.

Fedor Svarovsky: Happy Monsters (translated from Russian by Alex Cigale)

We’re delighted today to present a poem by Fedor Svarovsky, translated into English by Alex Cigale. I first read Cigale’s translations of Svarovsky in The Madhatters’ Review (link below) earlier in the winter, and am excited to read them in a Coeur Publishing edition later in the year. — AS

Fedor Svarovsky was born in 1971 and emigrated to Denmark at the age of 19, where he received refugee status and lived for six years. In 1997, he returned to Moscow where he continues to work as a journalist. Author of three books, his poems have appeared in such leading journals as Novyi Mir, Vozdukh (Air,) Ural, and TextOnly. English translations of Svarovsky’s poems by Peter Golub are in Jacket Magazine, Diagram, Two Lines (online), Absinthe (blog, March 6, 2013,) and Truck, and by Stephanie Sandler in World Literature Today. In 2011, Svarovsky participated in PEN’s New Voices reading series at the National Arts Club in NYC, through CEC ArtsLink.

Alex Cigale’s poems have appeared in Colorado, Green Mountains, Tampa, and The Literary Reviews, and online in Asymptote, Drunken Boat, andMcSweeney’s. His translations from the Russian can be found in Cimarron Review, Literary Imagination, Modern Poetry in Translation, New England Review, PEN America, Plume, Two Lines, Brooklyn Rail InTranslation, The Manhattan, St. Ann’s, and Washington Square Reviews. He is one of the editors of Asymptote, The Madhatters’ Review, The St. Petersburg Review, Third Wednesday, Verse Junkies, and COEUR journal. Until recently, he was Assistant Professor at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Alex’s other translations of Svarovsky are in The Madhatters’ Review, Eye of the Telescope, and Star Line. When I Was Saving the World, a selected writings of Fedor Svarovsky, in Alex’s and Peter Golub’s translation, is forthcoming from Coeur Publishing within the year.

Happy Monsters

20 years after
in the wake of the Black Day
incorporated in the region was a village PINGTS-1812
better known among the inhabitants
as Happy Monsters

this village
(something unsurprising)
is full of mutants
beside their physical deformity
possess absolutely unique abnormalities —
the organisms
of the majority of its residents
produce an excess
amount of serotonin
for this reason
these monsters are
and are constantly amusing themselves

a significant share of their jokes
consist of fecal-physiological references
but among them may also be found
truly refined expressions

that this serotonin mutation
as by the way
other physical aberrations
that have befallen them
are transferred through inheritance
the younger generation grows up
and it becomes evident
the descendants possess
the characteristics of their parents

one couple
for example
two sons — twins
13 years of age
these adolescents attract
the most attention
as from the tourists
so from the local inhabitants
each of the brothers
has three legs and three arms
each of the appendages of different lengths
similar in structure
and identical in development
and just so on these arm-legs
like some sort of incredible spiders
heehawing and whistling
spend their days
rollicking in their parents’ yard
in the fields and meadows
their spirits never sinking

at first glance
all this may repel
one who is unaccustomed
appear perhaps a bit inhuman —
all this undifferentiated guffawing
all this squealing from laughter
one-eared and lame-legged
the atmosphere of the natural
and simultaneously unrestrained pleasure
captivates everyone
who visits here
and the company of
of serotonin-abundant people
helps many to overcome their depression
and numerous other neuro-psychiatric disorders

as of late
as a result
of the flood of tourists
visiting the village
has become a great deal
more expensive for the arrivals
but no cost is too great
to spare for those tortured
by modern life
psychologically and morally drained people
patronizing this marvelous location

for the inhabitants all is good —
they do not take offense at the tourists
with pleasure have their pictures taken —
everything suits them:
the scoliotic
the cockeyed
missing extremities and hair
eyelids and noses
eyes on their foreheads
and tongues on their necks
hawking and farting
stinking and grunting
spewing and burping
they gambol and revel
every day of their lives as though
the very first one and the last
day of life

to the very limit
of corporeal existence
to the penultimate
to the very last
of serotonin

A Conversation with Cassie Donish

With this conversation, conducted over the past few days, we conclude our feature of Cassie Donish’s poetry, and welcome her to the editorial staff of THERMOS. Whatever that means! — AS

First of all, welcome to THERMOS. We’re really excited to have you (finally, I suppose) join us as an editor. What have been some of your thoughts about THERMOS in the past, and what’s interesting to you about selecting and presenting poetry?

I’ve appreciated THERMOS immensely since its inception in 2008. I brought printed volumes with me to Ecuador, Spain, and Mexico while traveling to those places in 2010 and 2011, and I was often able to step inside the poems, to lose myself and forget where I was for moments, and to come out again with my head tilted in a slightly different direction. What does this say? Does it say the poetry of THERMOS has been working for me? And if so, why is that? Is it because the poems are intellectually and technically exciting without being oriented above all towards Conceptualism? Is it because I can always feel the presence of a living, breathing, animal body behind the words? Is it because of the poems that are wryly funny while also being serious and unironic? Is it because I’ve known you and Melissa and Jay and Zach for ten plus years, because you’ve been part of the community through/with which I’ve developed my aesthetic sensibilities over that time?

I like the idea that because “there is no canon,” selecting and presenting poems is not about what’s objectively good — unless we’re talking about the feminist objectivity advocated for by scholar Donna Haraway, which let’s say we are, so actually it is about what’s objectively good, and our objectivity is not a view from nowhere, it’s a view from somewhere, from particularly situated bodies in time and space. Speaking of objects, I desire poems the way I desire things, a good mug to drink hot coffee from, say, or something I can wear, like a sturdy pair of boots for walking in the snow – I’m currently in the process of moving into an apartment in Eugene and it’s been snowing here, which is probably why I’m desiring these particular things. But also, I think I desire to be objectified by a poem, to be rendered by it. I want to forget I’m reading a poem, to instead feel like a pair of boots, or a self.

I recently read Graham Foust’s long poem “To Anacreon in Heaven,” and one of the many lines I love is: “The poem is the continuation of poetry by other means.” Whatever this means, I trust the opposite is also true.

What’s changed in your poetry during the few years separating “Las Escaleras, Oaxaca” from these new poems? Also, since you often write in sequence, would you mind talking some about your approach to that form?

I’ll start with the second part of your question. I think maybe sequences suit my temperament. If you’ve ever walked around with me all day, or for a week, which you have, you know I like it when conversations have many threads, and the threads can be interrupted by events (like swimming in a river, or buying ice cream) but then returned to suddenly in a single breath, without syntactic regard for the hours or days that have passed; for instance, resuming a prior conversation with gestures like “But what about…?” or “And anyway…” Maybe poets are like this in general, maybe people are? I think the sequence is a form that suits this mental state; it turns out that a single breath can be hours or weeks or years long. Who wants finality and complete thoughts? I love coffee, but my coffee often gets cold over and over, and I have to warm it up again. It becomes almost a game: how many times can I genuinely forget it’s sitting there, this thing I do want? Maybe I don’t like for the cup of coffee to end.

There’s something about living in foreign places, perhaps, that lends itself to writing sequences. I think I started writing sequences when I left the U.S. in 2004 to spend a year in Prague. Over the next few years I read C.D. Wright, Anne Carson, Barbara Cully, Carolyn Forché, Donna Stonecipher. Place figures prominently into the writings of all these women — and actually, both Stonecipher and Cully wrote in and about Prague. All these women also wrote sequences I loved. I think when you’re living outside your own country, and when much of what you write is epistolary, it seems that longer, fragmented pieces take shape, because there’s so much context to build, so much that is unfamiliar to your imagined, distant reader or correspondent, which is really you, in a way, the you that wants to hear about unfamiliar things. So the sequence written while traveling (and it doesn’t have to be abroad, of course, but really any kind of being in transit for extended periods, which could just be a metaphor for being a person who is not asleep) ends up being a long conversation you’re having with yourself, where you’re telling yourself what you see and making connections in an environment that’s ongoing, in a landscape that’s speaking back to you, because it’s listening, because it contains an endless amount of information you’ll never understand. 

I wrote Las Escaleras in Oaxaca in 2011. At the time, I was getting ready to start a master’s program in human geography. I was filled with the landscape and with geographic questions. Some people say that poetry shouldn’t be about explaining ideas, and while I don’t necessarily agree, I think what those people are arguing against might be modes of explication that are poetically ineffectual. I’m pretty sure that the presence or absence of “ideas” or “politics” doesn’t determine a poem’s quality as a poem, but that poems can certainly suffer for all kinds of reasons. But poems are of course captivating and necessary for all kinds of reasons as well.

Las Escaleras seems to come from a busy mind, a mind troubled with questions and arguments. I was trying to tell several stories, to translate them. In a way, I was exploring several research topics that I hadn’t fully articulated (to myself), ones that were keeping me awake at night, about the relationships between humans and our environments, about being an American in Mexico, about identity, performativity, and being an explicitly conscious thing. Also, about consciousness itself as performed.

Last spring, I finished my master’s degree in human geography at the University of Oregon. After sort of a break from writing poems, during which I was focused on a qualitative research project dealing with art and the gentrification of urban neighborhoods, I think I’ve come back to poetry with less ideological franticness. But maybe that’s not true. I’ve been swinging back and forth between the social sciences and the humanities for a long time. In my current oscillation, I feel a kind of intellectual investment in faith in aesthetics. A faith in that faith. This has implications for the kinds of poems I will write, and the kinds of breaths I will take.

I’m interested by the ways in which pursuits outside of poetry do and don’t intersect with poetic approaches. In New Orleans, I heard you talk with Robert Fernandez about theories of social space, and some other topics that were beyond my reach, related to your coursework in Human Geography. Here, you say that the Master’s program you recently completed gave you a two-year break from writing poems — but I wonder if you’ve tried to imagine ways in which the two pursuits might interact with one another. Specifically in terms of poetry, and specifically in terms of you, does that seem possible?

First I’ll say that a break from poems was really not a break from poetry, but certainly a break from finishing anything that looks like a traditional poem.

I’ve been calling myself an interdisciplinary thinker for a while, which means something pretty simple: that the categories outlining the basic questions and interests I want to spend time with don’t situate me easily in a particular discipline within the academy. Luckily, I’m far from alone in that regard. And there’s a good reason for that, which is that the disciplines in their current iteration are relatively new, historically speaking – less than two hundred years really (and that’s being generous), which is short in terms of the history of knowledges. And for some disciplines, the timeline is much shorter.

Pursuits outside poetry have always affected my poetic approaches. There are inspiring, incredible things to read that really transcend disciplinary divides, such as Henri Lefebvre’s lyrical writing on everyday life in cities and the gorgeous, large-scale metaphors (“theories”/“models”) he comes up with; Donna Haraway’s wild and imaginative critical pieces on feminism, primates, science, and cyborgs, among other subjects, which even in the 80s were probably ahead of our time; Bruno Latour’s brilliant, witty, and somehow warm and inviting analyses of the processes through which scientific facts and objects are produced, and his insistence that objects/things have a kind of agency we’re not good at articulating; and dare I even mention, like, Foucault? At times I’ve actually preferred to read such writers for poetic inspiration over “poetry.” But at my gut I’m looking for the same thing. Call it truth or beauty if you will, call it being shocked into presence by language. Call it disorientation that offers much more than it could ever take away.

I’m not sure I’m answering your question.

But I’ll also say I was very blessed to spend several months talking with artists, performers, musicians, and activists for my thesis project – and there were lots of wonderful opportunities for conversations about intersections between the various arts and social and spatial justice work. Those experiences were invaluable to me as a person and a poet.

Lastly, I’ll acknowledge that it’s probably easy for ideas, experiences, and conversations to mingle, always – but to practice a particular craft within a particular set of expectations or boundaries is different. So if you’re practicing writing songs, or writing academic articles, or writing stories, or letter, or poems, you’re going to be using different sets of aesthetic knowledges and different standards. If there’s a relationship between writing an academic article and writing a poem, I’m not sure what it is, besides that a creative attention to language and syntax will hopefully make both more interesting. There are probably other interesting things that could be discussed, like the aesthetic or ethical trajectory of a piece, but I’m not sure. I will say that I have more of a variety of registers to write in after immersing myself in the language of academic geographers, and that’s always exciting, and a good reason for a poet to study anything else in depth.

In working with us to edit THERMOS, you’ll be engaged directly with poetry as a contemporary happening. What’s exciting to you, right now, about contemporary poetry?

I have a biased view, of course: most of my closest friends are participating in the making of contemporary poetry. No other world has ever made as much sense for me. Often when I meet someone I connect with, I like to assume the person is really a poet, even if they’ve never written a word of poetry, and I sometimes try to convince them that I’m right.

No one’s in poetry for the money; I love what Paul Killebrew says about this at the beginning of your interview with him, about poetry as “the cheapest date in the arts.” I agree with him that if poetry and money were on better terms, the possibilities wouldn’t be as open-ended. Of course, there are all the various pressures even in the poetry world, but it’s just not controlled by market values in the same way as other arts. This changes the game in all kinds of ways – the way people have to be invested isn’t greater necessarily, but different. The organizing values are different, or, if they’re not, they’re at least attempting to gesture toward something not yet determined. Am I being idealistic? Sure. That’s part of it too.

Another thing that’s incredibly exciting is the sheer variety of poetic worlds and the number of people that seem to be writing poems right now. And people are sharing their poems in unprecedented numbers because of online forums. Some people might see this as a bad thing, but I think it’s amazing, and I don’t think we can really know right now what the future holds for poetry. So it’s a very exciting moment. Lastly I’ll just say that there are so many people writing good poetry right now, and I feel lucky to be so continuously impressed.