Monday, July 30, 2007

Three Poems: Priscilla Frake

And Still, I Can Hardly Believe

it actually happened;
I wanted, desperately,
to be anywhere else
but that gurney,
about to be delivered

of my tumors. I wanted
to skip my appointment
with Dr. Poison
and his gag assistants:
hair loss, bloating, and vomit.

I wanted to escape the machine
that caressed me with damaging neutrons.
I’d like to spit out the elixir
for aging, the sepia pill
I take every day to prevent

a recurrence. I want to pretend
I’m immortal, and normal,
but I’m here as it happens,
outside the garden looking in
to where azalea blossoms

drop along the walk like burned-
out matches; and my daughter,
caught in the shadow
of the iron gate,
turns her flower face to me.

* * * * *

Inanna’s Descent

Based on a passage about the Mesopotamian goddess, Inanna,
in Close to the Bone by Jean Shinoda Bolen

At each gate I leave something behind:
innocence, hair,
my breasts. I descend
without a guide

through fluorescent waiting rooms,
and enter a maze of corridors
walled with scuffed cinderblock
and the incomprehensible

names of diseases.
At each desk I surrender
a watch, a ring, a purse,
daylight, health.

I am strung up with tubes
and left hanging.
I am laid out on a table
and given to the knife.

None of the guardians
tapping away at computers,
shoving forward papers
can tell me why.

None of the presiding gods of that place,
complacent in their sterile coats,
will venture if
or even how.

It is up to me to learn
what is being born
as I labor in the belly of the hospital,
nine months in treatment.

It is up to me to decide
if I should wail and shake
my empty cup on a dismal corner
or stride like a queen through the underworld

and claim my exile.

* * * * *

What My Hand Knows

My fear lacks claws, fangs,
or baleful eyes. It takes the shape
of a rose window: a stained glass
honeycomb of vibrant cells
back-lit in the mind’s blue gaze;
one cell distorted and branching, growing
too fast.

As I sat idly sketching, my hand
drew this image before my mind recognized
what it saw. Two years out from chemo,
I walk through a labyrinth, a minefield.
Any step could rip my life apart.

I keep my fear before me
as it oozes, darkly,
forward into darkness.
It knows the way and I do not.
I follow, lightly.

~ Priscilla Frake's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many literary publications in the U.S., including Atlanta Review, The Sowʼs Ear Poetry Review, The Carolina Quarterly, The Midwest Quarterly, The Spoon River Poetry Review, and The Sun. Her work has also appeared in journals in Great Britain and Ireland including: The New Welsh Review, Cutting Teeth, Orbis, Cyphers, and Deliberately Thirsty. She has lived in New York, New Mexico, California, Texas, West Virginia, China, and Scotland. Her chapbook, Argument Against Winter was published by Cloud in the U.K

Sunday, July 29, 2007

What is poetry? And does it pay?

A great article from Harper's magazine. Nearly every young poet has been tempted by contests promising fame and wealth. Here is one man's amusing research into the realm of vanity publications preying on young poets.

What is poetry? And does it pay?

By Jake Silverstein

In song oracles were given, and the way of life was shown; the favour of kings was sought in Pierian strains, and mirth was found to close toil’s long spell. So you need not blush for the Muse skilled in the lyre, and for Apollo, god of song. —Horace, Ars Poetica

Summer in New Orleans is a long slow thing. Day and night, a heavy heat presides. Waiters stand idle at outdoor cafés, fanning themselves with menus. The tourists have disappeared, and the city’s main industry has gone with them. Throughout town the pinch is on. It is time to close the shutters and tie streamers to your air conditioner; to lie around and plot ways of scraping by that do not involve standing outside for periods of any length.

I was so occupied one humid afternoon when I came across a small newspaper notice that announced in large letters, “$25,000 poetry contest.” “Have you written a poem?” the notice began. I had written a poem. I had even considered submitting it to contests, but the prizes offered never amounted to much—a university might put up $100 in the name of a dead professor—and I hadn’t sent it off. This was a different proposition. With $25,000 I could pay off my debts, quit my jobs, and run the air on hi cool for a while. I submitted my poem that very day.

Two weeks later I had in my hands a letter from something calling itself the Famous Poets Society, based in Talent, Oregon. The Executive Committee of its distinguished Board of Directors, the letter informed me, had chosen my poem, from a multitude, to be entered in its seventh annual poetry convention, which would be held September 16–18 at John Ascuaga’s Nugget hotel and casino in Reno, Nevada. “Poets from all over the world will be there to enjoy your renown,” the letter boasted, “including film superstar Tony Curtis.”

This was not exactly what I had imagined. The notice in the newspaper had said nothing about a convention in Reno, and I had expected simply to win, or not. I felt almost foolish. Poets, I suspect, make good marks. In his study of Dryden, Lord Macaulay observed that “poetry requires not an examining but a believing frame of mind.” Evidently the same conclusion had been reached in a rented boardroom in Talent. I was about to throw the letter away when it dawned on me that there was still the matter of the $25,000.

The letter was from Mark Schramm, the executive director of the society. He informed me that should I choose to make the trip, I would be honored with the “Jacob Silverstein 2001 Poet of the Year Medallion” and the “Prometheus Muse of Fire Trophy,” both of which I would find to be “unique.” Schramm continued: “The fabulous Tab Hunter has asked that you personally walk with him in our Famous Poets Parade! As our Grand Marshal, he invites you to bring a poem of peace to release ‘on the wings of Pegasus,’ during our Famous Poets for Peace Balloonathon. Your poem is your message of love to the world. . . . I also look forward to seeing you win our poetry contest! Imagine yourself with a $25,000 check in hand and being crowned ‘Famous Poet Laureate for 2001!’ I can already hear the crowd cheering as the laureate crown is placed on your head! How beautiful you look!”

I knew that everyone who submitted a poem had been invited to Reno,1 and I knew that Tab Hunter had never said anything to Schramm about my walking with him, but the fact remained that someone was going to win $25,000 and get to wear a crown. I wrote back to say that I would attend.

Five days before the convention was to begin, terrorists attacked the United States, but the Famous Poets Society decided to push ahead with its program as planned. It was felt that poetry was needed now more than ever. It was also felt that there would be no full refunds of the $495 registration fee, in the event of a canceled flight or a distraught flier. I flew to San Francisco, rented a car, and drove up into the Sierra Nevadas, over Donner Pass, to Reno.

I arrived at the Nugget and identified myself as a famous poet.


1. Later on I was to learn that a few of the entrants are not invited to the convention. As Naythen Harrington, Schramm’s assistant, explained it to me, “You can’t put limits on poetry, but at the same time we’re not going to offend a bunch of people if someone’s like, ‘I fuck goats five times a day and I’m gonna piss in my eye.’”

Read the whole article.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Review: The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry

Tom Morgan, over at In the Becoming Undone, takes a look at a new anthology of Buddhist Poetry, The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry.

If there is anyone out there looking to make connections between the increasingly popular world of American Buddhism and meditation and contemporary poetry, Andrew Schelling's The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry provides a one-stop shop for all things Buddhist and poetic. Published in 2005, it is an extremely handsome volume with attractive, glossy cover, leaf flaps, excellent paper, readable font, ample margins, outstanding layout, and informative notes on each poet that make for a very enjoyable read and a beautiful reference. The anthology covers both what we might call the New American and more mainstream poetry. Included are, of course, the obvious heavy weights: Gary Snyder, Jane Hirshfield, and Philip Whalen (the only non-living poet included in the volume). Experimental writers such as Leslie Scalapino, Norman Fischer, and Will Alexander are set in alongside other writers more known for their prose then poetry, such as Eliot Weinberger and Dale Pendell. Ecologically inclined poets, including Arthur Sze and Cecilia Vicuna, are also given ample space. And, in what is without a doubt my favorite part of this volume, Schelling's introduction tracks the various attempts — formal and otherwise — of reconciling Buddhist practice and poetic practice in a way that is both academic and useful to the lay person. This essay alone is worth the $22.00 sticker price.

Read the rest of his post.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Flash Fiction: G.A. Scheinoha

Grand Central

Because night forgets, you never will. Because darkness never cleanses so much as sheds the skin of today, then slithers underground towards the epidermis of tomorrow, you stow it all away.

Wound up, small, round, tight as a subway token, slim sliver slipped through the turnstile of your arms.

"All aboard!" comes the conductor's falsetto cry. This isn't the polar express. Just a passage in which pain is drawn by the caricature, painted in the expression of everyone present.

A rackety, tail bone rattling excursion through countryside made indistinguishable less by failing light than the pulled in focus, concentrated on the coach inside.

Despite the dim, details leap out. Stiff wood backed seats, overstuffed cloth cushions, occasional rips, shockingly white where batting protrudes, a row of thin clerestory windows, stained glass panes leaded into the double tiered ceiling. You might've stepped straight back into the past; late Victorian or Roaring Twenties.

Somehow though, the features of anybody riding in those seats is lost. Either to dusk or simply, the tendrils of pea soup thick, London fog remembrance.

And the final destination is always the same, no matter when or where they disembark. It begins and ends at that depot. . . just beyond your shuttered eyes.

~ G.A. Scheinoha lives in the country where he was born and raised in a typical, blue collar working family. When not laboring as a warehouse packager or caring for an aged parent, he pursues a third, more public life as an author. His prose poems, plays, short stories, verse, reviews and commentary/opinions have appeared in newspapers, magazines and websites in Australia, Canada, England and all across the U.S.

Poem: Kit Kennedy

Snow is Like This

crunch of boot

woman looking
from window
pulls from plant
dead leaf

the huge
is nothing
the small
can’t cover
make still

~ Kit Kennedy has had work in many magazines, including Animus, Bayou, Bombay Gin, Cezanne’s Carrot, The Comstock Review, Karamu, Mannequin Envy, Pearl, among others. She hosts the monthly All Poets Welcome Reading Series in San Francisco and is a columnist (Conversations with...) for Betty’s List (