Publication Announcement

My poem “Abandoned Farmhouse” was released today on Zetetic’s website, and is free to read for the rest of the month!

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Christmas, One Year Later

My grandmother was never “that kind” of grandmother. She wasn’t patient; she wasn’t sweet; she wasn’t given to strong, public displays of affection. The only thing she ever taught me was how to win at Gin Rummy. “Hold up your cards, Jordan!” I can still hear her snap. She cheated.

She may have been that grandmother for my cousin; I don’t know. My cousin was everything I was not as a child. At family gatherings, she wanted to help cook, to set the table. I wanted to sit in my dad’s lap and listen to the men talk, or hide in a corner with a book, or roam through the house, opening drawers.

Did Grandmother teach her all those things I didn’t learn? How to make her special sweet potato casserole and how to grow old elegantly and how to set the table, with forks on the left and knives on the right? How to keep the bottoms of the cookies from burning, and the trick to hiding your paperback romances in the top of the closet so that your curious granddaughter does not find them? When she died, I was surprised by how much I missed her.

It was only recently, as we both got older, as I became, in her eyes, an adult with thoughts and opinions of my own, and she became, in mine, someone with years and years of stories to tell, whom I suddenly realized that I barely knew, that we began to find ways that we met and meshed. We both liked our tea the English way, hot with milk and sugar. We both knew to make friends with the librarians so that they don’t care if you check out lots of books and keep them forever. We both loved to travel, both planned dream trips we were afraid we’d never get to take.

Holidays – family gatherings which she was once the center of – feel strange now. When the poetry book that I’m working through asked me to write a poem about loss, it was Christmas that I immediately thought of.

 

Christmas, One Year Later

And I pass back and forth
between kitchen and living room,
crowded with cousins, and aunts and uncles,
thinking you must always
just be missed in the other room.

I keep smelling your perfume,
Elizabeth Arden:
Red Door,
and someone made your sweet potato casserole
with the walnuts in,
and at first I assumed it was you.

Grandmother –
I keep listening for your laugh.

When we hand out the gifts,
there’s no pile of envelopes
with their creased fifty dollar bills,
and when we line up for photos by the tree
I almost tell them to wait for you.

When we say our goodbyes,
waves from the cousins,
Aunt Jennifer’s brittle hug,
Gail and Joe’s slaps on the back,
there’s no wet smack on my cheek,
no squeeze of my elbow,
and I can feel the lack of it
all the ride home.

Writing Prompt #16: A Word List

I don’t always have great results with writing poems from a list of words, but occasionally it works really well. This is my favorite word list that I’ve used for a poem, and I think fitting for November!

Use this list of 10 words to create your poem, and feel free to cheat with tenses/prefixes/etc.:

  1. November
  2. tea
  3. abandon
  4. water
  5. breathe
  6. crack
  7. yellow
  8. guardian
  9. tattoo
  10. glass

This is the poem I wrote from these words:

Abandoned Farmhouse

Where did they go,
those whose frayed gingham curtains
still snap in November winds,
whose kitchen table is still set
for the men to come in,
whose house still stands
in the silence of a drawn breath?

Where did they go?
In the fields, glass bottles wink
in the sunlight like water.

Where did they go?
Those singers of the season’s change,
low chants rising from the yellow fields,
their tobacco left drying
in the decaying wooden barns
tattooed with graffiti and time,
and now harboring a murder
of crows.

Where did they go?
Dust felts the floorboards
and furs the Sunday dishes.

Where did they go?
Those guardians of the rusted metal tractor,
of the fifty pound feed sack
and the trampled grey dirt.

Where did they go?
Did they read this end in the tea leaves
still clinging to their cracked white cups?

So much of the city is our bodies

New York, NYC Photography, Manhattan skyline, Pastel, City lights at dusk, Travel, Empire State, Spring, 8x10 photo - The ViewIn my first poetry writing class, we all were given books of poetry and told to choose a poem to memorize. I was given Anne Michaels’ The Weight of Oranges, and chose to memorize “Phantom Limbs.” At that time, I had just moved to Raleigh from the tiny town I grew up in, and my boyfriend and I were busy exploring what felt then like the biggest city. I remember laying on my stomach on his bed and reading it to him while he worked on his homework, writing my journal entry that week on how I had chosen the poem because of how well I felt that it fit with our new life in Raleigh.

Last night I sat down with my aunt to talk with her about my move to New York. Am I scared? Am I excited? Where will I live? What will I do when I get there? Will I work, will I spend my first year writing, will I get into my dream schools? Will it hurt, being a plane ride away from my family?

“You’ll have your best friend with you,” she reminded me. “You can do this. It’s an adventure.”

Anne Michaels’ poem is still on my bulletin board  above my writing desk. I thought about it on my drive home, about how much has changed since the week I spent memorizing it.

“So much of the city is our bodies.”

 

Reblog from Liz Kay: Advice for Poets: What it means when a journal says no (or anything other than yes)

This post from Liz Kay’s blog was super helpful for me in interpreting rejections to my work. I hope you’ll find it helpful too!

liz kay

I’ve talked before about publication, but most of my advice has had to do with how to initiate a submission, and now I want to talk about what to do when you get a response. We’ve been sending a lot of responses at burntdistrict the past few weeks. Obviously, everyone is hoping for the acceptance (really, on our side too) but there are basically four other responses that you might get (from any journal).

1 The Form Rejection (though honestly I prefer to call it a decline): This rejection means nothing. Or it means many things. It means so many things it’s impossible to cull the meaning from it. It might mean that your work is so awful the editors couldn’t bear to read past the second line. It could mean that your work is really spectacular, but not in an aesthetic the journal normally prints. It could mean that your poem…

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Writing Prompt #14, An “After” Poem

This week, I tried writing an “After” poem for the first time. Though I’m not sure how successful I was, I found the exercise to be both challenging and a lot of fun. For this exercise, choose a famous traditional poet (Frost, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Rossetti) and one of their more well-known poems to write a poem “after.” I chose Christina Rossetti’s “Song.”

When writing your poem, keep the first line of your example, with it’s traditional language and meter, and then write the rest of your poem using colloquial English. I tried to keep my form and meter at least somewhat close to the original, and used Rossetti’s “remember” and “forget” in the final two lines of each stanza. You might want to use an entire line of the original somewhere else in your poem.

Here’s Rossetti’s original poem:

Song

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

And my “After” poem:

Rossetti’s Song

When I am dead, my dearest,
don’t marry anybody else.
Let no one cook your favorite
stir fry noodles, if I can’t.
Maybe you should get a dog
to sleep curled in the curve of your body.
Remember where you left your wallet,
and don’t forget to turn off the stove.

Travel, you’ve always wanted to.
Tell me about the rains
in Paris, the snow on the fjords,
the red dust of the Grand Canyon.
I won’t hear you,
but I’ll listen just the same.

Take the dog with you. He’ll remember
to touch your hand each night with his nose,
to listen until you forget
he’s not the one you were talking to.