I confess that these days I’ve been thinking about Christian Wiman’s poem “We Lived,” especially the stanza
to be mean
because that’s how I’ve been feeling—angry and afraid. In between phone calls to congressional offices I was writing snarky prose poems—with a jackal, a badger, a wolverine. It was therapeutic, cathartic—but it was all on the negative side of the equation.
Anger, as a kind of energy, has its place. It can do good things. But I’ve also been thinking about something Chad Sweeney said during a class at LiTFUSE—that just the act of working on a poem puts good energy into the world.
Walking along the creek near where I work, I realized that while I was putting good energy into the world while I was also whittling it away.
I had read Jamaica Baldwin’s fierce, powerful poem “Call Me By My Name.” To me, this poem is anger in a good way.
I had read about Kaveh Akbar tweeting poems by poets who come from the seven countries listed in the ban. To me, that is putting positive energy into the world.
I was thinking about another kind of mean, the arithmetic mean, where it’s between the extreme.
For now, I’ve abandoned those prose poems, and I’m trying to balance the bad with the good. This isn’t to say that it’s going to be all sweetness and light. It isn’t. Just an absence of snark.
And last night, I had the pleasure of hearing Ross Gay read poems and essayettes (or delights!) and talk about joy as a practice and poetry as an act of radical joy, or was it a radical act of joy? I’ll take either and both.
Earlier I posted about this on Facebook, and I always wonder about mentioning the same news twice, but here I’ll take the time to tell you that each of my two poems in the Spring 2016 issue of Prairie Schooner touches on being a mother.
The first is a letter to the mothers of the Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram—and daily it breaks my heart that these young women, the ones who have so far survived, have been gone so long. I started trying to write the poem in September 2014, months after the abduction. I was writing it in my head as I stirred the red sauce for Christmas dinner that year. In January 2015, the first real draft arrived. All along, with new rumors and false promises of a truce, I kept hoping that the girls would be able to return to their families, and I would gladly abandon the poem.
The second poem is about grown children coming home, and it begins
The house exhales behind me,
drains its rooms of resting air.
What abundance! This past week, I read On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths, by Lucia Perillo. These wry, unflinching poems call the world out on what it is, call people out on what they do. Celebrate. Challenge. Fiercely, they refuse to turn away from what’s messy or harmful. The poems invite rereading (“how, again, did she end up there?”).
The book begins with “The Second Slaughter,” which starts with Achilles and Hector, and then turns to oil wells burning in Iraq.
In “Black Transit,” Perillo gives us crows flocking to roost and visually describes the invisible:
as if the path were laid, as if
there were runnels in the air, molding
their way to the roost.
then notes how no one seems to respond, and perhaps that lack is complacency or a denial or a secret complicity. And the crows could stand for…
It’s a blustery, wintery Monday morning. And very dark. But I’m happy, because this week, my poems are featured on Cascadia Review. One poem a day, Monday through Friday. I’m excited to see my work presented this way, and I’m honored to be a part of this project.