Things That Are Silent

Things That Are Silent, Rethabile Masilo’s first full-length poetry collection, is published by Pindrop Press in the UK. The result is a stunning work of art edited by poet and publisher Jo Hemmant

Voted poet laureate of the Internet, Masilo is a poet, writer, and human rights advocate well known to those of us who have ventured into the world of online poetry.

Though I found Masilo’s work via a virtual community, there is nothing virtual or second hand about the way he communicates in verse.

Rethabile Masilo connects directly and honestly with the reader through poems that stand on the courage of their own convictions.

The book begins with “Letter to Country,” a love song to the speaker’s homeland of Lesotho.

Lesotho is a mountainous land that is surrounded, as if it were an island, by South Africa. In his introduction, Masilo remembers his many family members who were killed during the political troubles in Lesotho.

These are poems with a social conscience, not only for the grief over the loss of the speaker’s father, but also for others throughout history who have endured oppression and brutality.

In spite of the suffering the speaker witnesses, the poems also express the joy of life, the beauty of the seasons, the mountains, sensuality, and physical love.

The lines are musical, written with precision, care, and tenderness, displaying a deep sense of awareness of lyric language. As a US speaker of English, I enjoyed reading a smattering of African expressions, such as “bakkies” and the board game shax.

The bright red and blue cover art is by Lesotho artist Meshu Mokitimi, whose biographical notes are provided at the end of the collection. Mokitimi describes his style as being influenced by African Expressionists. The vibrant, strong lines of a woman sitting as if in contemplation sets the stage for these strong, contemplative poems.

These poems exist, not because they wanted to be, but because they had to be.

Rethabile (“Ret” to those who know him) writes about Africa-inspired literature at his blog, Poefrika

His book can be purchased directly from the publisher, Pindrop Press,

at Amazon,

or Barnes and Noble.

20120630-003115.jpg

Wind and Poetry

The howling wind tonight reminds me of Tess Durbeyfield when she wanders across the moors dressed in rags.  I read Tess of the D’Urbervilles around the same time that Nastassja Kinski appeared in Tess, a 1979 film adaptation of the novel,  but I haven’t yet seen the 2009 Masterpiece Theater version. Good times await!

Thinking of Tess brings to mind the nineteenth century and persona poems, both of which I love, and although The Suitable Girl (Pindrop Press, 2011) contains much more than period piece poems, there are some delightful ones to savor among the rich variety of poesy in Michelle McGrane’s latest collection.

The photo of the wine and my gorgeous copy of The Suitable Girl was taken at Kavarna, a coffee bar in Decatur, GA, near midtown Atlanta. The book is the first project from Jo Hemmant’s Pindrop Press. What a lovely debut collection! The Suitable Girl, in addition to Michelle McGrane’s wonderful imagination and gift for words,  reflects Jo’s attention to detail and her excellent taste in poetry. Jo, a fine poet in her own right, has a keen eye for the printed word and a well-tuned ear for verse.

John Siddique and Salt Publishing

Jo and I are very excited and honored to have John Siddique as a featured poet in the next issue of ouroboros. We will have two of his poems, an interview, and a review of his new book, Recital, which has just been released by Salt Publishing. Siddique is currently in California as a writer in residence at Cal State, and is launching his new collection at an evening reading.

Also, John Siddique is hosting this month’s poetry workshop at the Guardian. He offers a few examples of poems related to the night, and talks about his own connection to the moon and the night sky, one of the recurring images from his new book.

Since his collection is with Salt, I thought I should mention that this UK-based publishing company is going through some choppy economic waters. Jen Hamilton-Emery says in her open letter to the Salt Fan Club on facebook:

As many of you will know, Chris and I have been struggling to keep Salt moving since June last year when the economic downturn began to affect our press. Our three year funding ends this year: we’ve £4,000 due from Arts Council England in a final payment, but cannot apply through Grants for the Arts for further funding for Salt’s operations. Spring sales were down nearly 80% on the previous year, and despite April’s much improved trading, the past twelve months has left us with a budget deficit of over £55,000. It’s proving to be a very big hole and we’re having to take some drastic measures to save our business.

They are asking readers to buy just one book in an effort to keep Salt from going under. Maybe John Siddique’s Recital will intrigue you. There are also many US poets and short story writers to choose from. For example, Cherryl Floyd-Miller’s book, Exquisite Heats, is a Salt publication.

I went to the US writers and chose a book with a hairy T-Rex or an impossibly huge meerkat on the cover, called The Bible of Lost Pets, by Jamey Dunham, a collection of surreal prose poems. Yay! I can’t wait to read it. I’m a sucker for surreal prose poems and ambiguous animals on book covers. I’ve also got a soft place in my heart for independent book publishers. We who love the arts have to support creative ventures. Otherwise we’re left with what they sell at Wal-Mart and Target.

Clare Jay's Breathing in Colour

Way before the Facebook group Six Degrees of Separation was a twinkle in a blogger’s eye, we used to play the Kevin Bacon game. The idea was that no one was more than five people away from Kevin Bacon, and it worked every time. Example: you know me, and I know my husband, who worked on a film starring Kevin Bacon. So you are only four people away from Kevin. Cool, huh?

The same connection has happened with my writing friend, Clare Jay, who has just released her first novel, Breathing in Colour (Published by Piatkus, Little, Brown Book Group, 2009).

I met Clare two summers ago at a dream conference in Sonoma, California. A few months ago, when I was browsing Louisa Adjoa Parker’s MySpace page, I came across a photo of Clare, whom I recognized immediately because of her red curly hair and pretty eyes. I know Louisa through Jo Hemmant, so I wrote to Jo, who sent my message to Louisa, who wrote to me, and then sent my email to Clare. And now Clare and I have re-connected. I love the internets, don’t you?

Now that you’re connected to Clare, (since you know me), I recommend you visit her blog, read her bio, and order her fascinating novel. On her website you can read about her idyllic life on the beach, her studies of dreams, and her technique for entering the writer’s trance. She also shares inside information about the process of publishing a book. And leave a comment on her blog – I think she’d appreciate a warm welcome to cyber space.

Clara's Second Youth

“What’s in that head of yours?”
he says as she sits alone on a bench.
A lifetime ago Jake would cup
Clara’s chin in his hand,
lean in to brush his lips against her cheek,
whisper, “you’re my own feline girl.”
In Jake’s parents’ house one night
she told him, “I don’t like suspenders
on a young man anymore,
or the way you smoke a pipe
and listen to Big Band music.”
“What’ll I tell Mom and Pop?” he wailed.

Today she forgets she had eggs for breakfast,
buckles her bra on top of her dress.
She’s twenty-one, walking to the square
with Jake, arms wrapped around
each other’s waists, sitting with him
on this sunny bench, where Jake
cups her chin in his hand.

***

I wrote this poem as an exercise for an online writing workshop I took a few months ago. The instructor asked us to find a photo, to write to it, and then to begin and end the poem with the same line or thought. It’s called ‘the envelope effect.’ I found a photo of an elderly couple sitting together on a park bench, holding hands.

She also said to write couplets. I did all of that, but then I went back and re-arranged, did away with the couplets, etc… . The poem isn’t about anyone I know, it’s all made up. I don’t have Alzheimer’s, I don’t think, nor does anyone in my family, though of course, like everyone, I know people who have family members with the disease.

I didn’t write to the read write poem prompts this week, even though I was inspired to. I’ve been busy with magazine layout for ouroboros, teaching yoga, taking my son to the rock climbing gym, applying to graduate school (for another degree? probably not….), and taking a stab now and then at cleaning my house.

I’ve also been writing stories, which are still untyped in my notebook. Michelle McGrane’s interview with Padrika Tarrant inspired me. Go have a look, it’s a brilliant conversation between two talented writers.

While you’re at it, read Jo Hemmant’s poem at blossombones. You’ll hear the wind howling off the moors.

*Update: since a few people have commented that this poem doesn’t resemble Alzheimer’s, I want to clarify that the poem is about regrets, lost love, confusion, memory loss, and the happiness some people find in the illusions they create. The poem is a blending of several people and events, all of which I’ve experienced or observed, but it is not about a single individual, nor is it scientific or realistic on a factual level.

Here’s the poem again, in couplets. Thanks, Collin!

Clara’s Second Youth

“What’s in that head of yours?” he says
as she sits alone on a nursing home bench.

A lifetime ago Jake would cup
Clara’s chin in his hand,

lean in to brush his lips against her cheek,
whisper, “you’re my own feline girl.”

But in his parents’ house one night
she told him, “I don’t like suspenders

on young men anymore,
or the way you smoke a pipe

and listen to Big Band music.”
“What’ll I tell Mom and Pop?” he wailed.

Today she forgets she had eggs for breakfast,
buckles her bra on top of her dress.

She’s twenty-one, walking to the square
with Jake, arms wrapped around each other’s waists,

sitting with him on this warm bench
where he cups her chin in his hand.

looking for poems and art

Jo and I are revving up for a new reading period for ouroboros. We are thrilled with the success of the first issue – over 2,500 readers to date, and hope for continued interest in the project. Head over to our submissions page to read the particulars of when, where, and how to send us your poems and artwork.

spiral by grzesiek

spiral by grzesiek

The lovely and talented Dana Guthrie Martin has published a poem I wrote for her project, Shore Tags. The website, a blending of science, literature, and art, publishes poems and and articles that touch on the plight of hermit crabs and how they are having a tough time finding new shells to live in as they grow bigger.

There are so many social and spiritual parallels between humans and the other animals that inhabit the planet with us, but the little hermit crab is an especially endearing creature that has elicited some wonderful poems by children and adults alike. Dana has gathered all kinds of ideas involving shells, poems, photographs, links, and lesson plans for teachers.

Of course, Shore Tags is only one of Dana’s many projects. The latest one involves poetry, Seattle, and brothels. I’m not sure, but feather boas might be a part of this too.

Louisa Adjoa Parker's Salt-sweat and Tears

In her classic book, Writing down the Bones (Shambala, 1986), Natalie Goldberg talks about “first thoughts,” those fleeting images, feelings, and ideas that cross one’s mind before the censor of the super ego swoops in and cleans things up for polite society. Those first thoughts form the primordial soup of authentic writing, and are the gold nuggets most gritty writers dive deep to find.

A poet who has accomplished the deep diving is Louisa Adjoa Parker. Jo Hemmant (poet, editor and author of florescence) recently introduced me to Adjoa Parker’s poems, and from there I ordered her collection, entitled Salt-sweat & Tears, 2007, Cinnamon Press.

Adjoa Parker gets right to the point in her poems. She doesn’t rely on artifice to lead the reader on a symbolic goose chase, but rather opens her palm and lets us read the lines, without hiding or cowering.

The themes are not always comfortable – childhood neglect, racism, marginalization, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, death, abandonment, all held up for the reader in direct, beautiful language.

Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, speaks of descriptions and paintings of monsters as sublime. We can’t call them beautiful, but they are larger than life, and when we envision them, we are in awe. That’s the effect Adjoa Parker’s poems have on me. She delves into the marrow of life, draws out the painful parts, but does so with poignant metaphors, in just a few lines.

In fact, it’s the brevity of many of her poems that strikes the reader immediately. Like dreams, good movies, or intriguing novels, Adjoa Parker begins her poems in medias res, by going straight to the bulls eye of the moment.

Salt-sweat & Tears chronicles a hard childhood and a rocky young adulthood, but the reader is left with hope at the end, as the narrator speaks of self-acceptance, of a connection to the beauty of nature, and the pleasure of simply walking the earth.

a response poem

Dear Jo,

A poet from Spain once told me
he never saw any people in our
suburban county town. “You keep
to your colonies like ants, leave
your pods only when encased in a shell.”

I know a boy who stares other drivers
in the eye when he stops his car
at a red light. “I have an intrusive
personality,” he says, “I feel
compelled to make my presence known.”

On warm Madrid evenings families
gather in the plaza to sip tinto
de verano
, admire strolling youth,
listen to street musicians. Parents
gossip while children kick a soccer ball
in front of an ancient church.

Are we strangers, we who circumnavigate
space together on the same wheel of time?

2

2

This poem is a response to Jo Hemmant’s poem “close,” found on her blog, florescence. Dave Bonta, author of via negativa, has been writing several of these response poems over the last month. It’s a great way to acknowledge another writer, and to carry on the thoughts and feelings generated in the piece.