New Poems Up at Bellingham Review and Pontoon

I’m honored to have two poems published this month! “Amanda Bubble Crafts a New Creation Story” appears in Issue 71 of Bellingham Review; my thanks to former Editor-in-Chief Brenda Miller, current Editor-in-Chief Suzanne Paola Antonetta, former Managing Editor Ellie A. Rogers, and current Managing Editor Louis McLaughlin for including my poem. When you visit, please check out the gorgeous essay “He Worked as an Electrician. He Enjoyed Television. (His Obituary Was Plain.)” by Spokane poet Maya Jewell Zeller!

In addition, my poem “What Was Good about Going to Church” has been selected for this year’s issue of Pontoon, the journal of poems by Washington-state poets who submitted chapbook manuscripts to Floating Bridge Press. My thanks to everyone on the editorial committee at FBP! For the first time, Pontoon is now online, allowing wider access to readers. Here’s my poem, and here’s the first page of the Table of Contents (be sure to click through all four pages to read the whole issue). I hope you enjoy!

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Going “Above Your Nerve”: An Interview with Persona Poet Susan J. Erickson

Susan J. Erickson

Reading Bellingham poet Susan Erickson’s poem titled “Confession of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, also known as Private Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, Union Army” in the current issue of The Museum of Americana: A Literary Review, I was curious to ask Susan about the whole series of persona poems she’s been working on. I’ve greatly enjoy her poems, several of which have been published in the last couple of years, written in the voices of Frida Kahlo, Emily Dickinson, and Georgia O’Keeffe. As someone also obsessed with persona poems, I asked Susan to describe her project and elaborate on her process. She generously allowed me to share her responses.

Susan, why do you write persona poems–what initially drew you to them?

Maybe for the same reason we like to dress up for Halloween to try on being someone else for a while. Or, perhaps because I am a bit of a snoop and am curious about the how and why of another person’s choices. I noticed I was writing poems about women and after taking a workshop on the persona poem I decided to adopt the form for writing about women.

Sarah Rosetta Wakeman sounds truly fascinating. (Read Susan’s poem about her here.) How did you first encounter her, and what drew you to write your “Confession…” poem in her voice?

The Sarah poem was written in response to a call for poems on the role of women in wars. I discovered that women were in the heat of battle long before they were allowed to join the armed forces. Sarah impersonated a man so she could become a Civil War soldier and wrote letters to her family about the experience. Because I would have lasted two days tops in such a role, I wanted to imagine how Sarah pulled it off for two long years.

How would you describe your book manuscript of persona poems in women’s voices?

There is an Emily Dickinson poem that reads, “If your Nerve, deny you–Go above your Nerve–”  I think of this manuscript as telling the story of women who went above their nerve. I wanted to understand their contributions, pay homage to them and maybe dramatize how each of us can go “Above Nerve” (the working title of the manuscript).

How did you select the women to write about?

Some of them by happenstance. For example, I visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s home Taliesin in Wisconsin and learned about the murder of his mistress Mamah Borthwick Cheney in a fire at the home. So I wrote a pair of poems in the voices of Mamah and Kitty Wright, Frank’s wife, about their reactions when Frank and Mrs. Cheney abandoned their families and sailed to Europe. In another example, because we watch birds I was reading a biography of John James Audubon and became interested in how Lucy Audubon, John’s wife, held the family together while John pursued his ornithological obsessions.

At what point did you realize you had enough persona material for a sustained series, and even a whole book manuscript, in the voices of these women?

I more or less got hooked on writing these poems. In fact, I’m finding it hard to turn off the persona switch. Before long I had a body of work. The challenge is really to decide which poems are strongest and how to put together the women’s voices in a conversation that works for a collection.

In terms of technique, how did you go about creating each woman persona’s voice? Did you do this by borrowing language from texts they wrote, or did your immersion in the imagery of their writings suggest the “sounds” of their voices to you, perhaps? I’m interested in how you zeroed in on the features that make each speaker unique.

I sometimes get overwhelmed with the audacity of thinking I can act as a mouthpiece for another woman. Usually I research a woman’s life (sometimes reading multiple biographies) and work to get a feel for how each woman might react or respond. Most of the poems are based at least partly on actual events in their life–for example, I write about Georgia O’Keeffe making pea soup, a dish she made from produce from her own garden. And, I have Marilyn Monroe imagining her life as menu items at Schrafft’s where she often ate in New York City. In reality, I’m certain Marilyn never made such a comparison. I do use quotes from the woman when they are especially provocative or surprising.

What other links can readers follow to find more of your persona poems online?

“Casa Azul” and “Frida Kahlo Prepares an Altar for Día de los Inocentes “ at 2River View
“Frida and Frankenstein” at Literal Latté
“Mamah Borthwick Cheney Goes Abroad” in Marathon Literary Review
“Before Her Round-the-World Flight Amelia Visits with a Psychic” at The Hamilton Stone Review
“Lucy Audubon Wearies of Coping with Poverty and Her Husband’s Rambling Ways, 1821” and “In New Orleans, The Audubons Sit for Silhouette Cuttings, 1825” at The Museum of Americana

Thank you, Susan, for these illuminating comments about your persona poems. I sincerely hope “Above Nerve” finds a publisher soon so that we can read the entire collection!

Gratitude for Words of Encouragement

Joannie Stangeland’s latest collection of poetry (Ravenna Press, 2014)

Many, many thanks to Seattle poet, editor, and winemaker Joannie Stangeland for her write-up of Impossible Lessons as her Saturday Poetry Pick yesterday! Her lovely words are here.

In a wonderful coincidence, I’ve been reading her new book, In Both Hands. The poems there are haunting, replete with precise images of beauty and loss. I’m falling in love with, and going to school on, these incredible poems.

Be sure to read another recent post of Joannie’s, in which she describes her current writing projects.

A Little Story Involving Some Blasphemies in the Garden

Pulling weeds from the raised beds, I was feeling smug and virtuous for choosing to foodscape. We’ll eat lower on the food chain: more veggies, less meat. And the second week of June is never too early to put in your vegetables, right? I was further congratulating myself on allowing the tiny wild pea vines I was ripping out in handfuls to have served as a cover crop all these months. It had proliferated all through the spring: sweet little legume, enriching the soil with its nitrogen-fixing roots.

When I stood to look at the space I’d cleared, I saw about a billion displaced aphids squirming on the soil. Tiny green sugarbodies, suddenly exposed to the sun. They scuttled for the lifeboats, anything moist—grass blades, fir cones, pulled-up pea roots. I picked these up between gloved finger and thumb and dropped them into my wheelbarrow.

Disgusted, sorrowful, I returned two hours later. Toughen up, I told myself: the food chain never was for the faint of stomach. I spaded in compost and manure and the aphids’ billion sun-shriveled bodies. Mixed it all well. Planted my veg.

O goddess of solstice, O patron saint of sciatica, O receiver of insect souls: please bless my goddamn tomatoes.

 

Recap of Reading at SoulFood Poetry Night

Bethany Reid at SoulFood January 16, 2014

Bethany Reid at SoulFood
January 16, 2014

I had a wonderful time co-featuring with Bethany Reid at SoulFood Poetry Night last Thursday. Many thanks to series co-curators Michael Dylan Welch and Tanya McDonald, who created a wonderful atmosphere for sharing poetry. Thanks, too, to SoulFood Coffee House, home of Victoria the Espresso Machine. And much gratitude to Bethany, who provides the play-by-play and many kind words here. Have I told you how much I adore her collection, Sparrow?

Tomorrow!

Anchor Art Space

Anchor Art Space in Anacortes, WA

Please join us for Ish River Poets’ Circle: Sunday, December 15, 3:00-5:00 p.m., at Anchor Art Space, 216 Commercial Ave., in Anacortes, WA.  I will be joining Jane Alynn and Caleb Barber in a poetry reading. Brad Killion and Jeff Winston will be putting music to some Robert Sund poems, and Jim Hart will share more of Robert Sund’s poems and discuss his time with Sund in San Francisco.I hope to see you there for a wonderful afternoon of art, poems, music, and conversation! Tea and cookies, too.

Artist Profile in the Bellingham Herald

Yesterday, the Bellingham Herald ran an Artist Profile of me in advance of my chapbook launch next Wednesday. The interviewer, Margaret Bikman, had me discuss details about my writing process and my attraction to poetry in order to shed light on the poems in Impossible Lessons. If you’re interested in those things, or in learning more about my mysterious past, please check out the interview here.

Happy weekend, and thanks for reading!
Jennifer