A curated literary guide

Week #44 / 30th October – 5th November, 2017

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Sunday Review: boke 暈け

a chapbook from Jasmine Gui, with illustrations by Jacqueline Lai

[ words(on)pages / 2017 / 20 pp ]

boke is a blue collection, a rainy collection, a walking collection.” Already so accurately summarized is this chapbook that I had to start here. The square, palm-sized shape of it makes it easy to hold and easier to read. It’s short, but not without warrant—it’s just enough. There is no want for more.

The poems within collect a journey that’s not as physical as it is emotional. They feel suspended in a bubble of blue, something that slows you down as you enter it, like being underwater—able to move through it, but at a pace that makes you feel alien, unsure. Unwavering, though, is the effect of this, as captured by Gui’s words. You feel so entirely alive.

I was lucky to hear Gui read from her collection not once, but twice—it’s the type of poetry that can fill a room. But it’s easy to consume on your own, too. Gui’s poems take the reader with them: they travel, slowly, but surely, through time, space, feeling. In an effortlessness that clearly took much effort, this collection has a flow. Like the images of water, city streets, birds and light it invokes, there they flow around and through and under, difficult to navigate, but easy to see and enjoy. I was particularly moved by the concrete and recurring images of travel—airports, markets, hands reaching for hands, the blurred edges of it all as so often experienced when somewhere new.

Jacqueline Lai’s illustrations add a certain charm to the work. They frame the short poems that all draw back to the title. Each poem begins with an action, or perhaps, a request: we are asked, or reminded, or told (I’m unsure, as it can come across differently depending on your mood—another effect of the walking style), to blink, to then consume the image after the blink in—literally—the blink of an eye. It’s impossible to absorb everything in a single scene in one quick glance, but that’s what Gui gives us: a fragment. But Lai’s illustrations change that. They allow the reader to linger. If you read as fast as I do, you’ll understand: sometimes it is hard to slow down. The illustrations help you.

Do we ever tire of leaping out of nets into the still of surfaces?

This simple (but loaded) question is surrounded by an image of fish leaping up from the water, bellies facing the viewer who is, quite literally, looking down on them. Matching the vulnerability and sadness to be found in the question itself, this illustration in particular struck me as exemplary, its connection to the single line it frames so stark and so very stilling.

It is best to mention here, at the end, that bokeh, or boke, is an Anglicized Japanese word that is used, most commonly, in reference to blurs or bubbles of light in photography. Beautiful and out of focus, not unlike the atmosphere found here in this collection—there is something in that strange blur that makes one stop, linger, wonder.

Visit words(on)pages to purchase the book.

Reviewer / Terry Abrahams

Five Things with Shira Erlichman

1. The last thing that made you smile.

In Prospect Park I saw two middle school boys on skateboards holding hands while they rode. The world is entirely off balance, but they kept each other balanced.

2. A secret.

A secret keeps part of ourselves separate from the world. In fact, the etymology of secret is “separate.”

Sometimes this separating is vital for our own survival: we must secret, must closet, must boundary, keep what’s only ours to know. But make no mistakes: the thing itself is not a secret. It is already known. It has blood, shifts, it has a witness: you, its cage and key.

For example, in the past I’ve kept my mental health private from employers because of the very real risk of stigma and very real potential for unwarranted firing. What was just a fact became a secret. When I started sharing with the world that I have Bipolar (hi!) it was no longer a secret. How strange, what a verb can do to a noun. I secreted.

Who was it that said, “God hides things by putting them all around us”? It’s true. All secrets are hidden in plain sight. Every one of your bones is a secret. Which makes me think of the first x-ray ever done. It was by physicist Wilhem Rontgen of his wife’s hand in 1895. The very first thing she said was, “I have seen my own death.” Death was always a fact, but seeing the hidden made that fact a wild, flying thing.

3. The last thing you wrote.

A wild, flying thing.

Or, yesterday I got dizzy at a burger joint, so I wrote down what I wanted so my girlfriend could order for me. Or, some emails. Or, a tweet about how men think every interaction is a meet cute. Or, in the search bar of my phone: “Charloe and the choclste factory” (I type too fast don’t we all yes) because my girlfriend said it was originally a book by Roald Dahl & I didn’t believe her (it was). I suppose my point is that we’re writing all the time. If someone was learning how to read & write, they’d count those little events as something Real, even momentous. If we’re talking about poems, I’ve been writing—both on the page & in my head—something about an important bus ride I took seven years ago, but it’s so simple that it’s hard to write.

As of now, this is the last thing I wrote.

4. Favourite city.

I live in the most dynamic, stinky, bossy city in the world. I often say that running an errand in New York is like doing the Iditarod. It’s epic. I’ve seen a human organ on the subway. I’ve seen Ilana Glazer, Kate McKinnon & Emma Watson pass through a single restaurant in a single afternoon. I sit on geniuses’ couches on the regular & then watch them literally take over the world, ten glowing marquees at a time. I’ve walked the length of Manhattan down to the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to my doorstep, just because I wanted to, because the sun was sunning & I was hungry for everything. Still, I can’t claim a favorite city. I got spoiled by Northampton, MA, where I lived for six years. My favorite city is the river. I don’t need a home that never sleeps. Most days I just want a patch of grass & some good quiet. I want nobody around but trees, who are so much like the best people, if you engage them as such.

5. What you’d place in a time capsule.

Rothko (orange & yellow) / a warm bath / Moscow Mule in a signature
gently hammered copper mug / a tub of marbles / two rings & a necklace
made by my friend & earthweaver Jessie Levandov / the one time I’ve been
on a subway car alone / my dad laughing so hard he sounds like a hiccuping
monster / View With a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska / thunder &
hard rain while resting in an empty house / sea lions barking on the pier / swears
in Hebrew, as taught by my Mom & Aba to my brother, girlfriend & I one summer
night / Amy Winehouse singing “Valerie” (acoustic) / whales calling each other
by name / coffee with too much cream / The Color Purple / a reel of the most artistic
soccer plays in history / Joseph’s album “Native Dreamer Kin” / Werner Herzog
narrating my autobiography / speechlessness / Lithium in pill form / Lithium in
battery form / Lithium in rubber form / Queers not caring / Queers cackling / Queers
inventing everything / longboarding the parking lot on Christmas eve / everything about
Angel / my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Sodano’s voice / a collection of very soft wish
stones / my brother’s album “Season of Increasing Light” / Kingdom Animalia
by Aracelis Girmay / another cup of coffee (you’re welcome) / Prince’s eye contact
(you’re welcome) / deep woods wet soil smell / a macaroon mint electric
guitar / that one time my friend Kit dressed up as Emily Dickinson for Halloween
& anytime anyone asked who she was she’d say, “I’m nobody, who are you?”

Shira Erlichman is a poet, musician and visual artist. In Hebrew Shira means poem and song. A three time Pushcart Prize nominee, her work can be found in The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed Reader, and PBS NewsHour’s Poetry Series, among others. She was awarded a residency by the Millay Colony, the James Merrill Fellowship by the Vermont Studio Center, and the Visions of Wellbeing Focus Fellowship at AIR Serenbe. Israeli-born, raised in Massachusetts, she now lives with her partner and big orange cat in Brooklyn.

Epigenesis: A Lineage in Two Voices

a collaborative poem from torrin a. greathouse & Linette Reeman

sometimes i don’t realize the hand-me-down
            of my fists until i beat                       a wall

If any poem could come alive and stitch its thread into your skin, ‘Epigenesis: A Lineage in Two Voices’ would be that very poem. Winners of Sundog Lit’s summer collaboration contest, torrin and Linette are as equal and unlike each other, and their voices inhabit every line and enjambment; they share and dissect themes of the body, violence, and time without ever losing themselves. The one section that continues to haunt me echoes pain and memory:

my body remembers a trauma it did not           muscle through
my muscles remember a trauma my body           should not know

In an era where bodies, certain bodies, are under attack, it’s important to read visceral work by those who know the constrictions and fears of inhabiting this flesh. I look forward to more poems that reach into my insides, and I hope it’s by these two poets.

Visit Sundog Lit to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Hannah Cohen

Women Who Sleep on Stones

a poem from Lucia Perillo​

Today, I turn 40. Forty is an age that calls for Lucia Perillo. Sure, there’s tinsel-grey hair (dyed bright purple) and a sharp ache in the left knee, but Lucia Perillo contrasts the body’s ageing with the burning vitality of spirit:

Women who sleep on stones are like
brick houses that squat alone in cornfields.
They look weatherworn, solid, dusty,
torn screens sloughing from the window frames.
But at dusk a second-story light is always burning.

The aches of the body are catalogued, the pooling of blood and weight of flesh detailed with elegant frankness. Yes, my “hips creak and their blades are tender.” I am a woman whose body has interminably shifted under the weight of time and gravity, and I adore Perillo for making it beautiful—an act of resistance to rise each day and continue to exist in a world that is ready to relegate a woman of a certain age to the fringes.

So, on my 40th birthday I claim to be a woman a who sleeps on stones:

The next day they’re sore all over and glad
for the ache: that’s how stubborn they are.

Visit Poetry Foundation to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby

Where the River is Shaped Like Words and the Words are Shaped Like Blades

nonfiction from Amorak Huey

I stuck my fingers in the blades of an old fan the other day. The wounds are not so much cuts as ruptures. Blunt-force openings. You’d think I’d have known better.

Take a trip back to your hometown and indulge the nostalgia of semi-truths and stories that have been told and re-told and passed around a multitude of times. Today I have something between truth and fiction, something like exploring old memories, except they're not quite yours and they’re not quite memories.

This is the town where I grew up. It’s hard to tell a story with no hero.

Huey explores ideas of fiction, the impulse to reinforce reality and truths with structure, to sew in a backbone of linearity and narrative architecture. Sense is what we make of the things that have happened to us. Sense as something not innate, but impulsive and recurring. Maybe what separates happenstance from the intentioned, the things that were meant to be, is ourselves.

The problem is you think it’s building to something, this narrative. The problem is, you think it's a narrative.

Visit The Collagist to read the piece.

Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong

Two Erasures

poems from Sarah Lyn Rogers

Erasure poetry enjoys a deep and complex history. It can be joyous and whimsical, a potential low barrier to entry for new poets looking to expand their understanding of the possibilities of experimental forms. But the heat of erasure is in its inherent political angle. I will never be able to look at a poem formed by blacked-out text without seeing a political document, something stricken from the record, something hidden. The inverse works, too. What is hidden by a larger context is revealed. The erasure poem converses with, repudiates, or perhaps uplifts the text from which it was carved.

Sarah Lyn Rogers has two erasures in the recent issue of Dream Pop Press, and they both resonate, albeit in different ways. Both come from pages of On the Road, about as ubiquitous a piece of American literature as it comes. I want to focus on the first erasure. Rogers’ short poem, surrounded by a deep read that hides all but the 17 words that make up the poem, pinpoints an insidious reality of patriarchy—how it so often forces women to apologize (for anything, at any time, really), to doubt themselves and the reach of their presence in the wider world. “She apologized / like all women who live / voraciously” is cutting and weary at the same time.

The second half of the poem finds an extraordinary moment of uplift—“in the fiction that / the / riotous day / was over.” The “riotous day”—something chaotic and colorful and charged—as not being over, perhaps something that never ends, is almost joyful. The sea of red is violent and sensual; the surrounding text a well-known tale of overt and overly masculine narratives that do little good in the name of women; the poem, a small thread, rising from these backdrops and finding its own self, unapologetically.

Visit Dream Pop Press to read the poems.

Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein

monumento mínimo

a photoseries from Néle Azevedo

What comes to mind when you hear “monument”? Lasting in material, specific in hero status, large enough in scale to hold a space, right? ‘Minimum Movement’ pushes back against these common perceptions, instead finding significance in mutability, anonymity, and the small-scale. Each shot of this monument revels in the liminal space: between solid and liquid, each ice figure slowly undoes themself atop stone or wood. Even their bodies can’t seem to choose a color, instead switching between clouded white and clear as cracks plume inside their bodies like tiny fireworks across their chests, faces, and legs. The sun propels their weight forward or backward, even curling them into fetal position. The sun beheads, de-legs, crushes to lumps then puddles waiting to be swooped by the ever-present rays.

This legion is never meant to last more than a few minutes, demanding presence in the public space until they can occupy it no more. It’s frightening to think how quickly climate unravels hours of process, but more than that, each figure is about the size of a hand (as shown by the many portraits of citizens reaching for a figure). Each figure is touched and does touch; even the space between these lines of bodies can’t keep them from melting in/onto another. These bodies whittle, once hundreds of equally sized hands to just one palm offering to the wind. Instead of the hero perpetually in glory, the monument becomes a series of mouths, consuming til they’re consumed. Here we recognize the fleeting nature of legacy—though we still seek, honor only lasts insofar as an audience's fickle memory.

Visit Néle Azevedo’s website to view the photoseries.

Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse