19 April 2014

Spring 2014 Issue and Welcome

Greetings PQ  friends!
Welcome to our spring issue of PQ. We’re quite excited to be celebrating National Poetry Month with you and hope you enjoy the Current Issue, full of lively content.

Spring is definitely in the air and with that comes renewal and change. Stay tuned for forthcoming announcements for big plans here at PQ. We’re planning on shaking off the dust and will share some exciting news very soon.

If you’re interested in writing reviews or other work for PQ, be sure to check out the Guidelines to know where and how to direct your queries and submissions. We may publish quarterly, but we’re always on the hunt for in-between issue content for the blog, too.

Thanks, as always, to our magnificent and generous team here at PQ. Our editors and contributors volunteer their time to share their reviews and inspirations with you.

We hope you enjoy this latest issue and share our links in your social media spheres. We appreciate the word of mouth! Thanks for your continued interest in Poets’ Quarterly. Like us on Facebook and stay tuned for more great content coming soon. 

Kind regards,  

Lori A. May  

Founding Editor/Publisher 

Announcing: A New Book of Poetry!

By Leslie L. Nielsen

Oh boy! A new book of poetry!

Oh boy. How can I ever keep up?

For anyone interested in finding books of poetry to read, there’s a steady and generous stream of information about potentially wonderful words on the way. To find out about new releases, check—

  • Email newsletters from writers and small presses (google poet names and publishers of books you love)
  • Facebook notifications from writers and small presses (search and “Like”)
  • Daily news and Weekly news round ups from Poets & Writers
  • Harriet from the Poetry Foundation
  • All the great Reviews in Poets’ Quarterly (hint, hint)
  • New Releases featured at any good bookstore
  • Friends’ bookshelves and coffee tables

Tap into those and you’ll never be without poetry to read. With so many new volumes coming out daily, not to mention my wish list stretching back centuries, I always feel behind. I’m a fast and thorough reader, but there are limits.

So, too, are there strategies—not for reading everything in print, but for making progress that feels real.

In honor of Spring, I’ll align and illustrate several ways of approaching the teeming poetisphere with organizational schemes from the world of garden design.

Try plotting out your next reading list based on one or more of these choices. Some of the systems are based on aesthetics or whimsy, but reading with a plan can also create a sense of continuity and help you trace patterns of development among the many individual texts:

These are gardens of a single color, like the white garden or purple border at Sissinghurst Castle, or of a single species, like former US Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin’s palm forest. To create a monoculture reading list, you can read all the works of a single poet or from a single press.

The specimen garden is related to a monoculture garden, but with an emphasis on achievement, it’s one in which the host will gently guide guests toward one outstanding featured specimen of a tree (“Observe the intricate spine of this weeping birch”) or flower (“You know, you’re lucky. She only blooms once very ten years”). This reading list would be comprised, for instance, of all the winners of a single prize—the Nobel, the Pulitzer, or the T.S. Eliot, for example. There are way more of these than you realize.

A few examples are Mediterranean (think every sun-loving herb you like) or rock (think New Mexico) or East Asian (think Zen sand and rocks or perfectly coiffed asymmetrical shrubs and arched bridges). For books, identify a particular region or culture you’re attracted to or curious about and read books by poets with associations there. There are more and more ways to access poetry identified by people group. Some journals and presses such as Alexander Street Press, Cave Canem, and The Publishing Triangle cultivate poets and poetry from single, specified groups.

Curb Appeal
Like the cover? Buy the book. This is also a common strategy for choosing plants and wines. Your reading experience may be a mixed bag, but your shelves will look great.

Many famous ancient and just really old gardens are formal ones, orderly and predictable. The parterre, on a spectacular scale such as at the Palace of Versailles, is based on symmetry and by imposing geometric order on nature. Perhaps formal gardens (and poems) endure because their forms, once defined, can be maintained by others in ways freeform nature can’t. In poetry there are, of course, sonnets and sestinas, triolets and tankas, ballads, limericks, villanelles, odes, and dozens of other forms. Each is available according to its historic tradition as well as modern variations and mash-ups. A good place to start exploring is with the Poetry Foundation where you can search by keyword (enter “ghazal” for example) and bring up a list of poems in a given form by diverse poets who abide by the rules or who vamp on the form successfully.

Right outside the kitchen door, the chef puts plants that are useful to have at hand—parsley, chives, tomato, and onion. Encircled by a hedge,medieval herbalists and other practitioners raised plants used for medicine, ritual, and conjuring—artemisia, rue, mallow, and wolfsbane. Useful or medicinal poetry might be themed to connect to your life’s practical needs—grief, love, nature, the beyond, or high tech cyber woes. Titles are suggestive, but reading reviews can truly help you find out who’s writing what, when you need company. You might need a book about dogs. Not that any single poem, let alone a whole collection, can or should be pigeon-holed into a topic, but unless a book is a Selected or Collected works, it’s likely to have some sort of a center or thematic refrain.

Late Summer Nursery Discount
At the end of August, those fifty dollar flowering shrubs you eyed in May’s home and garden magazine, the few remaining non-photogenic ones that is, get marked down to about $5.99. There’s something satisfying and less consumer-y about finding books at resale shops, yard sales, or clearance bins. Spend a season reading only the dog-eared or previously highlighted. You may find brilliant annotations or hand-me-downs from readers of note.

On a tour of my last garden, interested visitors were treated to a story about every other plant—who it came from (“These pale pink mums were from my high school best friend”), how it got there (“Yes, smuggled. In hand luggage.”), or where it used to sit (“And that whole bed of grasses came from one mother out back.”). Books that are loaners or pass-ons from friends, colleagues, or freebie boxes outside faculty offices, if you frequent academia, have everything inside the purchased ones have, but float in an aura of history and the pleasure of meaningful human connections.

Here’s my strategy—plant or read a hodgepodge of whatever comes to my attention through external channels or via landslides among my extant piles of books. A proper English cottage garden, I’ve read, requires enormous knowledge and attention to detail to ensure a vibrant and healthy rotation of colors, textures, and statures throughout the growing season. It’s not quite as random as it appears. And I suppose there actually is a pattern to my reading, though it might not be apparent in an aerial shot. It reflects the poets I’ve met, the conferences I’ve attended, and the writing headlines of my time.

So back to catching up. I may take some of my own advice and make a new reading list based on one of these strategies. You can too. Just add it to the bottom of the old list and dig in.

Leslie L. Nielsen lives in Ohio and Denmark. Her work appears in journals such as r.kv.r.y. and Literary Mama. She holds an MA in English Literature from Ohio State and an MFA in Poetry and Nonfiction from Ashland University. She teaches writing, leads workshops in creativity, and occasionally blogs.

Anger, Hatred, and Identity: Anzaldúa and Lorde's Marginalized Bodies

By Shauna Osborn

How much of this truth can I bear to see
and still live
How much of this pain
can I use?
            Audre Lorde

She becomes a nahual, able to transform herself into a tree, a coyote, into another person. She learns to transform the small "I" into the total Self.
            Gloria Anzaldúa

Judith Butler argues that "identifications are multiple and contestatory" which is a statement that both Gloria Anzaldúa and Audre Lorde discuss considerably within their poetry and theory. In fact, Anzaldúa and Lorde's texts focus almost entirely on questions of identity.  For both authors, anger and hatred begin as an external emotional reaction from other individuals which is then internalized for a marginalized body. This common act of internalization is discussed as a primary element that shapes identity.  According to these authors, marginal bodies become silenced and invisible through their fragmentation by a masking of difference or/and the white washing of history/myth.  Both authors recognize several ways for a marginalized body to be seen by those who would try to make such a body invisible and silent through their writings.

How do bodies become marginalized? In Sister Outsider, Lorde identifies what she calls a "mythic norm" which is found "somewhere, on the edge of consciousness."  She explains in our culture the mythic norm is identified as "white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure," and if you do not identify with any part of this norm, you know that the mythic norm is "not me." The mythic norm is important because, “It is with this mythical norm that the trappings of power reside within this society. Those of us who stand outside that power often identify one way in which we are different, and we assume that to be the primary cause of all oppression, forgetting other distortions around difference, some of which we ourselves may be practicing.”

Audre Lorde
Not only does the mythic norm help create marginalized bodies, but it is one of the starting points for those individuals who do not reflect it to begin self-fragmentation. This succeeds in creating a self-induced silence that many individuals do not even recognize, which mirrors the silence that other members of society place on a marginalized body.

This is similar to sentiments Anzaldúa utilizes in La Frontera to discuss the beginnings of the "new mestiza" consciousness. She writes, “Cradled in one culture, sandwiched between two cultures, straddling all three cultures and their value systems, la mestiza undergoes a struggle of flesh, a struggle of borders, an inner war. Like all people, we perceive the version of reality that our culture communicates. Like others having or living in more than one culture, we get multiple, often opposing messages.”

Like Lorde's idea of the mythic norm, Anzaldúa's mestiza has several versions of reality/norms which are contradictory and with which an individual within that culture is suppose to identify. To identify exactly with any one of them would be next to impossible for an individual enmeshed in more than one culture.

Anzaldúa and Lorde have similar answers for this problem; using identities that embrace multiplicity, even to the point of being seen as contradictory. They take "the freedom to carve and chisel" their "own face" in Anzaldúa's words. These multiplicities in identity help combat the fragmentation that can silence and make individuals invisible. As Lorde explains, “My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I integrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely through all my different selves, without the restrictions of externally imposed definition.”

Gloria Anzaldúa
Definition of self brought by self-design (and not those preordained by specific parts of our cultures) that is inclusive of all the elements of an individual is one way to resist fragmentation. Anzaldúa and Lorde are resignifying the words that identify them--Anzaldúa by claiming the "new mestiza" as her identity and Lorde through her insistence that identifying as a "Black lesbian feminist socialist mother of two" is more inclusive.

In Bodies that Matter, Butler states that "Neither power nor discourse are rendered anew at every moment; they are not as weightless as the uptopics of radical resignification might imply." Yes, power and discourse are not weightless, but they are subject to change over time. Besides this, the immediate goal of resignification is not to change the discourse of a society as much as it is to give those living as marginal bodies a way to reflect themselves in a positive light to (and amongst) themselves. Resignification becomes a way to use what in the current discourse of the mythic norm would be considered a “derogatory term” in a personally powerful way by someone within a marginalized body. The personal positive use of these terms often lead to their eventual change in connotation amongst the larger cultural discourse as well—a byproduct of the act of the resignification. The countless examples of former “derogatory” slang terms that are now utilized as neutral (even academic) terminology attest to the larger impact resignification has been proven to create. The fact that both Anzaldúa and Lorde's texts have been so highly influential since their publication speaks to the fact that their call for resignification hit a chord amongst readers.  

Both Anzaldúa and Lorde are poets who pepper their theory/prose with poetry, identified as queer and talk of the difficulties this created in their interactions with the homophobic society under which they lived, and use the straightforward language style most often associated with non-academics. The similarities show that these two authors are expressing the same concerns in many of the same ways in their work. One of the main differences between their theories on identity comes with Anzaldúa's emphasis on identity's connections to language and finding your identity through geopolitical space.   

In "How to Tame a Wild Tongue," Anzaldúa states "Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity" and that "if you really want to hurt" someone "talk badly" about their language, (59). By making a person's language(s) illegitimate, you are making their ethnicity illegitimate as well. Anzaldúa enacts this theory within some of her poems, most notably in "We Call Them Greasers." The persona within the poem, an English  speaking male (most likely white), uses the Spanish terms "ranchos" and "mañana" in a contemptible, insulting way to the people he is trying to swindle out of land. Also, since within his actions in the poem we are assured he thinks of these women and men as less than human and his laughter at the fact they did not understand/speak English, we can infer he sees their language as illegitimate. In fact, in stanza three we see an actual event that shows that the language these people speak is seen as illegitimate.
Oh, there were a few troublemakers
            who claimed we were the intruders.
            Some even had land grants
            and appealed to the courts.
            It was a laughing stock
            them not even knowing English.

Even with proper documentation, because their language was not seen as legitimate, these "troublemakers" lost their land to the persona. Like the unfortunate “greasers” in the poem, anyone who does not comply by speaking and understanding the cultural norms of the un-marginalized are “troublemakers.”  Anzaldúa's focus on language and place in regards to identity makes perfect sense to her readers that experience the reality of living in two or more languages/cultures. Written from a code-switching troublemaker to speak candidly to other code-switching troublemakers, La Frontera legitimizes personal experience with language in a similar way to Gertrude Stein. The major difference is the political ramifications of both Lorde’s and Anzaldúa's work are much more overt.

Shauna Osborn is a Comanche/German mestiza who works as an instructor, wordsmith, and community organizer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 2013, she received the Luminaire Award for Best Poetry from Alternating Current Press, a National Poetry Award from the New York Public Library and the Native Writer Award from Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. You can find her online at shaunamosborn.wordpress.com.

Contentment through Metaphor: Poetry as a Creator of Myth

By John McCarthy

If you are familiar with Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, then you might be familiar with his idea that poetry is the only craft that can keep myth alive, alive in the present. Myth, as defined by him, is the potential within all of us to realize our intellectual and spiritual potential, finding harmony with ourselves and those around us to the highest degree. It is a total belief and faith in oneself. Without myth, culture is invaded with a pestiferous sense of apathy and a dangerous lack of engagement with human elements--compassion and understanding.

Faith in its traditional sense of rules, laws, and traditions is what we normally think of when it comes to creating a better self inwardly and outwardly. An acknowledgment of something larger than oneself is needed. Ostensibly, poetry is an acknowledgment of what can’t be outright articulated, so it explains it through metaphor. Poetry picks up where religion turns to extremism and where science turns to materialism in this regard. Good poetry acknowledges this impossibility of knowing, and then contents us with it.

Death is, ultimately, what art and poetry tries to explain, either through contentment with the unavoidable or avoidance by attempts at preservation. This ability to content us with death and our own insecurities with time are where a lot of contemporary poetry, and poetry in general, fails. It is great at recognizing death and time, but it never contents us with it; it never gives us a reason to be personally invested. Navel gazing introspection or fragmented ideas and images are an unfortunate pitfall. A lot of poetry acknowledges its own discomfort with the unknown, death and time, their idiosyncratic quirks; which is fine, but if the poet does not give us an emotional context in which to content ourselves with the poet’s discomfort, or with our own, then the poem fails to typify the objective of myth. And meaning charged to the utmost is what Ezra Pound called the goal of poetry.

Take these two stanzas in Natasha Trethewey’s poem Myth as an example:

I was asleep while you were dying.
It’s as if you slipped through some rift, a hollow
I make between my slumber and my waking,

the Erebus I keep you in, still trying
not to let go. You’ll be dead again tomorrow,
but in dreams you live….

The death of someone personal is being held in a metaphorical place of darkness. Here is the unexplainable being cradled in the myth. The Erebus is representative of what is beyond us. Where there is loss, there is still life within a dream. The poem has succeeded in contenting us with the unexplainable. There is a lot of risk in writing but about something like this, but myth can be the comfort to that risk.

“Surely all art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end,” writes Carolyn Forché. A poem should take us to that end. It should bring us into a cohesion with uncertainty, then deliver us in that same moment. It cannot just tell us there is a myth. It cannot just provide a metaphor for a particular thing. The poem must content us with what is being addressed. It cannot leave us in the unknown without the tools to navigate the unknown. What most poems fail to realize is that these tools are not knowledge alone, but an ability to properly use emotion in right the context, creating an appropriate balance between heart and truth.

This is done through metaphor. The metaphor combines truth with the spirit, the universal with the personal. Through the description of something small comes the sense of something larger. The metaphor, when analyzed and understood, is contentment with the unknown, a realization that we are not alone in that which we do not know. The understanding comes through, as Forche said, the living through danger, or an event where myth is necessary to content oneself where the danger and its uncertain outcome was overwhelming.

Poet Matt Hart wrote, “We look to the past and future to understand the present.” In the past is the myth. In the future is the myth. The past is unknown, because our memory is illusion, unreliable. The future is unknown and something that cannot be known. We must somehow combine two ultimate uncertainties to content ourselves with the present. This is why we need myth; we need poetry. And we need to keep the myth alive, or we risk falling into a collective danger that cannot be waded through. Poets and their work need to be ever mindful of their emotional intent.

Poetry, in this sense then, is used to cultivate and understand what makes us happy, where bliss is waiting for us. Poetry will help you follow it. Poetry will allow you a depth and maturity to your own emotion so that following your bliss turns into something fruitful and productive rather than rebellious or self-destructive.

This duality of life and death, this fruitfulness out of what is barren is captured in the last lines of Dean Young’s The New Optimism:
You look an animal
in the eye before eating it and the gloomy
weather makes the lilacs grow. Hello,
oceans of air. Your dead cat loves you
forever and will welcome you forever home.

What is dead is still there if you content yourself with it. Sadness is an exterior. If we look past the sadness and into the interior of it--the myth--we will see the importance and profundity of all things, the contentment. On some level, this has to be an integral part of a poem’s direction.

It is so important that poetry be taught, not just as academic theory, but as a creator of myth. A poem is always emotional, but that emotion needs to content the reader with a larger unknown beyond the self, not just the selfish emotional moment of the poet. If poetry is used as a creator and supporter of myth, then the potential for poetry exists within us all. It is what Keats called Negative Capability. It is what Lorca called duende. Myth is another word for all of that. Poetry is a conduit for the potential in all of us to be content with that which we will never know, with the reason we will keep writing, and, most importantly, with each other.

John McCarthy’s work has appeared in, or is forthcoming in, The Pinch, Salamander, Oyez Review, Jabberwock Review, Midwestern Gothic, SPECS, and The Lindenwood Review, among others. He lives in Springfield IL where he is the assistant editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public-Radio Program. He has been a regional judge for the national Poetry Out Loud recitation contest and volunteers at the Vachel Lindsay Home. His website: johnmccarthylit.com