Sunday, October 11, 2015

A church I have sat in

I recently had two poems in Sundog Lit, a journal that tastes good and is good for you.

The first poem, “Whittler,” is a poem I was particularly fond of when I wrote it, and I was disappointed after the first rejections came in. A Sundog editor asked me to change a clumsy stanza with a semi-colon like a door stop. And he was right. 

I wrote the second poem, “Flush Sky,” for a project with the Found Poetry Review. The idea was to take a text and replace some recurring words with alternatives. I took a text called “English Speakers, You Stink at Identifying Smells.” I switched ‘smell’ for ‘cloud,’ ‘speaker’ for ‘sleeper,’ and a couple other more minor words, then choose different passages and changed the order, but without adding anything that didn’t otherwise appear in the original text. 

These pencils were made by the Finnish artist Jonna Pohjalainen.

Thursday, October 08, 2015


I didn’t expect the Nobel Prize for Literature to be given until next week. But I woke up this morning and found out today was the day and I remembered last year how I was rooting for Svetlana Alexeivich and figured I’d root for her again. I even looked at my copy of Voices from Chernobyl on the shelf and thought I should take it in my purse, like that would be the charm, but decided to do what I could to care a little bit less.

I was glad I hadn’t been anticipating it a whole week, and it would just be a few hours. And bingo. How exciting. Alexievich won. She said she was ironing when she found out. I haven't been as pleased since Herta Müller won in 2009, and before her Wislawa Szymborska in 1996. I am partial to Eastern Europe, and women writers. 

Voices from Chernobyl is a great and devastating book. I took it from the library at my mom’s house, a couple years ago, and later decided to buy it. 

By chance, last week I found out DMQ nominated my poem “Newlyweds, Ukraine 1986” for Best of the Net. It’s a found poem and the source text is the prologue to Voices from Chernobyl.

Newlyweds, Ukraine 1986
Poem found in the prologue of Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich

I don't know what I should talk about—about death or about
summertime. Who’s going to explain how the mouth wants

a kiss, and a flame the whole sky? At first there were little
lesions in the morning. They came off in layers—white film, 

a transparent curtain. Then burns like black handkerchiefs
came to the surface. The trolleys stopped running, the trains. 

They were washing the streets with white powder. No
one told us a coffin could be built from a loaf of bread.

Barefoot in his formal wear my love squeezed into bed.
There was an orange on his table. A swollen one, pink. 

He smiled: “I got a gift. Take it.” The nurse was gesturing
through the plastic film that I can't eat it. It had been near 

him a while. Not only could you not eat it, you shouldn't 
even look at it. “Come on,” he said, “you love oranges.” 
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