Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Kick Poetry Month Off With a Blog Tour! And a Poem-a-Day!

Welcome to the Blog Tour!
Below, I'll all answer a few questions about my writing process: what I'm working on, how my work differs from others who write in my genre, why I write what I do and how my writing process works. Thanks to my friend Athena Kildegaard who invited me to take part.  You can visit Athena's blog to see her Blog Tour post from last week and work backwards to the writers who came before her.  But, going forwards, after you read my post, you might want to visit the posts of my two dear friends: the amazing fiction writer (and fellow Napa Valley Writers' Conference staff member), Lakin Kahn (Rhymes with Bacon) and the amazing poet and one of my oldest friends, Nicole Callihan (www.nicolecallihan.wordpress.com).  Lakin lives in Sonoma County and Nicole lives in Brooklyn, New York. I'll post more about them (and links to their blogs) below.

Here are my answers to the Blog Tour questions:

What am I working on?
Right now, I’m working on three things.
The first is a series of poems and verse novel on a small town in Western Pennsylvania called, Pithole.  Pithole was an oil boom town that legend says only survived 500 Days.  My chapbook of poems about Pithole is making the contest rounds now and the full collection (with the poems and verse novel) will begin circulating this summer.  Until then, here is a poem from the collection of poems:

What Wears Out or Up After Time

Out of the valley mist that low hollow hangs.
Out of the moan of thick river ice pull gone locked.
Come melt.  Come rainbow sheen, glistening.
Come wool of clouds opening up.

Out of the forest thins.  Down hemlock,
split pine.  Up the derrick still sap-sticky.
Up the open-bellied stores and hotels.
Up the fa├žade and the see-through-the-cracks.
Come the war-tired boys still blind of love,
still hungry, still pistol armed.

Out of thirst and holes and mud comes oil.
Red velvet curtains gone muddy, creek gone muddy loud,
comes screams of hairless horses, their burning bodies spelling into night.
Out of the locked up girls who open their legs because of fists.

Come something red as cardinals.  Out of bread lines and dead letters
and lost children come thick pipes and steel laid down to out.
Come spit in your face.  Come hot breath. 
Come the fold in, the knock down, the every man for himself,
the bury it, the get out, the fire that burns to the ground.

Come the ashes sifting down.   Come the years.
The heavy dirt that don’t rise ‘til you dig in. 
Come the buried river, still moving.
Come the ghosts of those girls, thick hair blossoming—
Come the words still whispered from their lips.
The second project I’m working on (tentatively titled, “There’s a Ghost in this Machine of Air”)  is a book about the history of Sebastopol (the small town where I am from).  The book is also a combination of historical poems and a lyric sequence that tells the story of a young mother who ends up widowed on her newly planted apple orchard near Freestone, CA in the late 1800s.  Many poems from this collection have been published already and I hope to start circulating the collection early this summer.  Here is a link to a poem from the book: Geography as Seen From Tall Ships” which was recently published The Cider Press Review.


Finally, I just started a new project which I am tentatively calling “The Book of Jack London”.   The work is a series of poems written about often confusing and contested biography of Jack London.  This book is in its infancy (only a dozen poems are so); however, this April, I plan on returning to this project during my yearly poem-a-day ritual. Here is a poem from this series:

Make Them Float in Your Mouth

On the cruise of the Snark, Jack London, and his wife Charmian sailed to Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa and the Solomon Islands and ended on the Island of Guadacanal, where ill health forced Jack to sail commercially to Sydney, Australia for treatment of a skin problem feared to be Leprosy.

If you want a story, you have to look for it.  You have to begin
with the idea of seven years.  You have to imagine a boat.

You have to build it from paper and ideas.  You have to sail
your leaky boat into the hissing lava as it enters the sea.

You have to reach your first destination and ride
a 75 pound surfboard until you fail all day.  You have to watch

the plantation workers cleave the sweet fruit with machete again and again.
Until the story you’ve told yourself begins to stutter and spit.

You have to go to Molokai on the 4th of July and see for yourself
the small girl who, missing a nose or an arm and covered with sores,
wears sequined clothes and joyfully dances. You have to sail on
past empty pockets and bank accounts.

You have to watch your itinerary dissolve in the water
next to the Australian yacht converted for black birding.
You have to see the machete lines carved into the teak door.
 
You have to lose all of your water and then be blessed with a storm.
You have to endure sores the size of baseballs that seep and cling to your calves
and thighs. You have to go up river into the luscious green tangle

of what is unknown until the flowers emerge: red, hibiscus-like
large enough to contain the whole sunset syrupy sky.

You have to find that island.  Make it float in your mouth. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I think what makes my work different from other poets who are writing today is my relationship to history.  (Although, there are plenty of amazing poets who are writing about this topic).  I’ve always felt like history is something we are meant to dig into and unearth and where absolute truth is something that is almost impossible to find.  This discrepancy inspires me to write. 

Why do I write what I do?
Because I have to.  Because when I visit a place, or I hear a story, I can’t stop thinking about it until I’ve dug into it and found the stories that were hiding beneath the surface.


How does my writing process work?

I write a poem a week (thanks to a wonderful group of poets I have a virtual, no-stress workshop with), and I attend my writing group once or twice a month.  Also, twice a year (April and November) I write a poem-a-day with a fabulous group of writers.  I am completely deadline driven and these deadlines (however, self-imposed) keeping me writing even when life as a working mom keeps me from my writing.  Speaking of poem-a-daying, today is April first and therefore, I've written my poem for today. 


[If it hadn't been for the bones, we'd not believed in the ghost]
at Jack London State Park

If you say something long enough it'll
slur in your mind--stitch back the seams of time:
Blue eyes lit like swollen sea gone slack,
dulled misty grey as the shroud that that inches
down Sonoma Mountain.  Flit in the woods--
a glint, honey lit strobe caught between trees.
The rattle and clang, the reconstruct like a museum diorama.
Step across flimsy steel-jawed gates.
Queue the raspy jazzed voice of a 1920s record
playing on the dented gramophone
Jack and Charmian London lugged through the South Seas.
Place the manuscript boxes just beyond reach
and leave them empty enough to make fingers itch.
Outside, in the needle hushed woods,
let the girl walk until silence swabs her clean.
Only then do you let the memories out--
black shining birds that rise from the trees
and scream like notes from a Steinway Piano
winging it toward the open jarred mouth of sky.
Check out What's Next!
I hope you enjoyed this segment of the Blog Tour!  And don't forget to continue onwards to the next two writers Lakin Khan and Nicole Callihan who will be posting on their Blogs next week! 
Lakin Khan is an instructor in English at Napa Valley College and Fiction Director of the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. She earned an MFA from Antioch Los Angeles and is finishing Master’s in English at Sonoma State University. Her fiction, poems and essays have appeared in zaum, the anthology Zebulon Nights, and Tiny Lights, A Journal of Personal Essay.  In the works is a collection of nature essays titled “The Bestiary of Sonoma State,” as well as a novel set on the Mendocino Coast. At times she writes an idiosyncratic blog, Rhymes with Bacon.
 
 
Nicole Callihan writes poems, stories and essays. Her work has appeared in Washington Square, Salt Hill, L Magazine and The North American Review and was named Notable Reading for Best American Non-Required Reading. Her books include Henry River Mill Village (2012) which documents the rise and fall of a tiny mill village turned ghost town and SuperLoop, a book of poems published by Sock Monkey Press in early 2014. Find her on the web at www.nicolecallihan.com. And follow her on twitter @NicoleLooped.
 
 

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