Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What I'm Reading: The Book of Scented Things

80º ~ feels like 80º, headed up to 95º, our saving grace...a drop in humidity, no rain and no relief in sight, summer arrives late this year, but it arrives, cicadas and hummingbirds abound

In February 2013, I was invited by Jehanne Dubrow to participate in an anthology project that she was then editing with Lindsay Lusby: The Book of Scented Things: 100 Contemporary Poems about Perfume. Now, the book is done and in the hands of reviewers and contributors. Published by The Literary House Press, it appears the book will become available for sale after its October 7, 2014 debut party at the Rose O'Neill Literary House at Washington College.

You can read about my drafting process here. My perfume was Oranges and Lemons Say the Bells of St. Clement's by Heeley.

And to whet your appetite, dear reader, here is a glimpse between the covers of the book.

Anthologies, for me, are hit or miss. I tend to read them piecemeal, often only really reading a small percentage of the poems or authors. I mostly associate anthologies with classes, but I know that there are many other readers out there who have distinctly different approaches to anthologies. I tell you all of this as background to this fact: I read The Book of Scented Things cover to cover, devouring each and every poem, and not just because I'm a contributor.

Perhaps the organization of the book compelled me to read linearly. Like most anthologies, the book begins with an introduction (by Jehanne Dubrow), and there is a preface (by Alyssa Harad, author of a book and many articles about perfume). Then, we get to the poems. Each poem is numbered, and numbered in a certain typography that echoes perfume lingo, a la Chanel Nº 5. While some poets chose to mention their perfumes in titles or within the poems, in the contributor notes, the editors have included which perfumes was paired with each poet. While I'm not a perfume wearer, I found myself flipping back there out of curiosity time and time again.

Poem Nº 1 is by Amit Majmudar, and is an anti-assignment poem. The title, "On His Reluctance to Contribute to The Book of Scented Things," explains. So, we begin with a poem where the first line, "All attars are unutterable," calls out the challenge for the poets, each assigned a different perfume as inspiration. There were no other "rules" for our writing. We were to write any poem at all, as long as it was in response to the perfume.

I was struck, at first, by the number of poems that directly mentioned the assignment, perhaps by alluding to getting the perfume in the mail or by describing the tiny glass bottle with the black top. It didn't even dawn on me when drafting "Too Simple a Reason," my contribution, to start there. Others worked from the idea of the scent on the body, as I did. And still others wrote poems less directly connected to the literal perfume on the body, but as reaction to the fragrance alone. Fascinating.

Another fascination for me is the range of style in the book: short lyrics, longer narrative, single long stanzas, couplets, a sonnet or two, a prose poem, etc. Along this line came the realization that while I recognized many a poet in the book, I met many new writers as well, and now I have a whole new list of books to explore (one of the greatest benefits of anthology reading).

It is nearly impossible to pick a representative poem to quote here, and certainly impossible to pick a favorite as my picture of the dog-eared pages should attest.

However, I'll list some titles as precursor to your reading the real thing come October, should you choose.

The Lost Bottle (Rachel Hadas)
Sniff (Catherine Wing)
You think language is silly until it happens to you (Dorothea Lasky)
The Perfumier on the Comeback of the Scented Glove (Rebecca Morgan Frank)
Mystery Joins Things Together (Rick Barot)
Gulf City Dialect (Nicky Beer)
This is What Manhattan Smells Like? (Matthew Thorburn)
If Scent is the Trigger of Memory, This is what America Remembers (Nick Lantz)
Too pretty for words (Jessica Piazza)
American Masculinity (Jericho Brown)
Dear Rotten Garden-- (Mark Bibbins)
In Algebra Class, Prince Stuck in My Head (Adrian Matejka)
Unrequited Sublime in Three Notes (Traci Brimhall)
At a Certain Point in Marriage (Idra Novey)

Finally, the last poem, Nº 100, is "Your Scent Does Not Remind Me..." by Elana Bell, and we come back full circle to the ideas introduced in Majmudar's poem. How do we say in words what is evoked by a scent? In between these two poems, there were many references to bodies, relationships, flora and fauna of all kinds, pastorals and urban landscapes, flights of fantasy and crushing confessional poems. It was a wild and wonderful ride.

Many thanks to Jehanne Dubrow and Lindsay Lusby for the great job editing the book. The crew at The Literary House Press did a fabulous job on the production of the book as well. I'm so happy to have been included, and I look forward to hearing what other readers think of the collection once it is available to them.

Monday, August 25, 2014

So, Yeah, I Wrote a New Draft Today

81º ~ headed up to near 100º today, been swampy for the past four days, hummingbirds zoom the feeders

As many of you know, I believe in the BIC method of writing, where BIC = Butt In Chair. Today marks the beginning of week two for the teaching semester, and my schedule this time around allows me to be at the desk from 7 a.m. - 9 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Last week, I spent my three BIC sessions mostly reading, and I'll post about some of that reading soon. On Friday, I also dabbled in the journal, just playing with word gathering (making lists of nouns, verbs, and adjectives from whatever I was reading at the time), and then making some attempt at a few lines.

Today, I re-read the drafts I created in June and got a few inklings of where I might begin. One of the drafts from June is a simple "I am" poem based on whatever was going through my head on that day. Today, I started there again.

Am mirror to the wilted sky.
Am steam risen after rain
hovering groundward.

I got about a dozen solid lines out of the exercise. And the lines feel like a whole draft rather than a series of jagged fragments that go nowhere specific. While this might not become a fully fledged poem, I have begun, again, to focus on language and the line. I know that by following the BIC rule, I'll eventually figure out what it is I have to say.

What I'm really dying to know is this. What will be my next obsession? Do I need an obsession? Can I just write a bunch of unrelated poems? Has the sickly speaker ruined me by making me dependent on a narrative at work in multiple poems? Should I return to the angry sisters or have I gotten all I can get out of them? Should I write straight-up confessional poems? Should I stick with persona? Do I have the ability to write poems about ideas rather than people and things? Do I have the ability to get pointedly political?

And so, I return to beginner's mind, again and again and again.


In other creative news, I've opened a Square Marketplace to sell both my books and my collages online. You'll see the bright green "Order Online" button to the right. If you click on it, you will find a way to buy my books online, and you'll also find my collages there (yeep!).

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What I'm Reading: Flight of August by Lawrence Eby

84º ~ still dodging the worst heat and humidity of our normal summers, no rain chances for a week, may need to water at some point

Truth be told, I read Flight of August by Lawrence Eby months ago. It was the winner of the 2013 Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and I picked up a copy at AWP. I didn't post a reading response of the book when I first read it because The Alchemy of My Mortal Form was still sitting in the submission pile at Trio House for the 2014 Louise Bogan Award. I don't know if it was superstition that prevented me from posting or if I didn't want to seem like I was currying favor, but today, I re-read the book and was just as drawn to it as on my first read.

Like Traci Brimhall's Our Lady of the Ruins, Eby's book is post-apocalyptic, and features characters trying to make their way in a desolate landscape. It's not a surprise, then, that one of the blurbs for Flight of August comes from Brimhall herself. In Eby's case, the landscape is frozen in "ever-winter," perhaps as a result of global climate change. Certainly, the setting of these poems is one of snow, ice, and a harsh wind. The land itself is inhospitable, the mood one of being on the precipice of a true doomsday.

In Flight of August, the most recurring persona is a young man being shown the way of this harsh reality by his father. Other voices pop up now and then, but these two men remain the focus. Each poem is numbered rather than titled, and the book unfolds as a wandering narrative. I imagine one could read the poems in random order, but I don't think it would be as fulfilling an experience.

There is a sense of panic barely controlled in many of these poems, and their forms bear this out. The poems are short, make use of indents and tabs, repeat brief phrases right on top of each other, and deftly balance enjambed lines with end-stopped to keep the reader's momentum tumbling forward.

For example, here's the opening of "#1."

We scout.

The pelt line is empty
           swaying hard to the ever-winter
           wind. The cold cold
nails jutting from collapsed
shanties, sheets hung
from a rebar post ...

In "#29," the first two stanzas are left-aligned, and then the remaining stanzas are all indented one inch. Here's a brief moment.


             the stag            horned-
             devil                tracks our

             need to live and die.

In "#45," all hope appears to be lost as "The earth is tired // of its rotation. The sun / is sore from long years // of weight." All this is pressed upon "These globed children and their / demands." The plural speaker, eventually declares "We are // beyond a repairman's callused / work, his touch."  However, there are a few poems left after this one, and I'll let you, Dear Reader, discover Eby's concluding pronouncements on your own.