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Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

I’m delighted to welcome Arisa White back to Diary of an Eccentric today to share a little about her upcoming release, Who’s Your Daddy, a poetic memoir due out in March 2021, and a video poetry reading. Please give her a warm welcome!

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Who’s Your Daddy started as a series of epistolary poems when my mother first asked me if I wanted to write my father in Guyana. He was deported back there for involvement in a criminal case. Because I did not know what I would say in the letter—in part because I didn’t know what my feelings were—I needed the space to reflect, feel, and prepare for language.

At its root, the work is personal, it requires a telling, and it’s seeking to know something and someone. I was wondering how the poem could hold this journey that would be expository, observational, interrogative, and self-reflective. I was pushing the poem to its extreme, asking it to come explore with me as I figured out my relationship with my father, his absence, and the woman I’ve become in this estranged dynamic.

I wrote the epistolary poems for nearly two years, all of which were addressed to Gerald, my father. Fortunately, I received a grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation, which allowed me to create a self-publication of the poems, host a series of letter writing workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area, and take a trip to Guyana where I met my father after 30-plus years of his absence from my life.

The self-publication is called Dear Gerald, and I gave out these chapbooks in exchange for letters addressed to absent, distant, dead fathers and patriarchal figures. This resulted in me collecting eighteen letters, one came as far as the Philippines and two from inmates sentenced to San Quentin. My mom even sent in a letter.

When I went to Guyana in 2015, I kept a journal and read the newspaper every day I was there, so when I returned back to the States, I now had notes and reflections from actually meeting Gerald, being in his home country, in the neighborhood in which he grew up. All these pieces felt necessary to the book.

The project was expanding and broadening. Throughout it all, I was reading articles on father absence, the historical role of the father, pieces on Black fatherhood and The New Jim Crow, books on endarkened feminisms, Afrofuturism, neoliberalism, Black death, as well as poetry collections that employed documentary poetics. Reading works like Zong!, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, and You Da One, I was intrigued with how to include all the ways I was responding to (and how life around me was helping to answer) the questions of what do I feel when it comes to my father? Who am I as a result of his absence? What is love in abandonment? What role does disappearance serve in my intimate relations?

After the trip to Guyana, I felt physically done with the project. I was exhausted from it. And it wasn’t until 2017, when writing with my friend Emerson Whitney (who has an amazing lyrical memoir out called HEAVEN) that it started to make sense how I could integrate these different pieces together. Emerson’s style is wonderfully lyrical and fluid. He pulls in and weaves citations along with personal memories and his sentences have strong poetic sensibilities. What you get is an autotheory that feels more authentic to how a life lives, learns, senses, and makes meaning.

In the writing game of tag with Emerson, where I would send a prompt (photograph, quote, etc.) to him, and then he tagged me with a prompt, I started to push the length of the line and challenged the function of the sentence. I became less afraid of the sentence as a thing of prose writers, and started to feel it as a way to communicate with my father–off in another country, miles and miles away, with decades between us. The sentence was a way to connect, it was a conjunctive experience.

Who’s Your Daddy finally took a coherent shape while curating a reading series, and being in residence, at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco for eight weeks. I wrote a twelve-page piece that included citations from writers like Henry A. Giroux and Christina Sharpe, the artist Meleko Mokgosi, the letters received from folks, prose poems, all of which comprise the final section of the book. Writing that twelve-page piece taught me how to develop the rest of the collection, and with the help of my editor Kate Angus, I was able to recognize which narratives I needed to include from childhood and young adulthood. Now, as I look over the book, the opening sections of Who’s Your Daddy are more poetry, the shorter lines, and then as the collection progresses, the genres blend, the sentence takes over as I make my way to the father.

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About Who’s Your Daddy

A lyrical, genre-bending coming-of-age tale featuring a queer, Black, Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.

Advance Praise:

“Arisa White channels the ear of Zora Neal Hurston, the tongue of Toni Cade Bambara, and the eye of Alice Walker in the wondrous Who’s Your Daddy. She channels Guyanese proverbs, Shango dreams, games of hide and seek, and memories of an absentee father to shape the spiritual condition. What she makes is “a maze that bobs and weaves a new style whenever there’s a demand to love.” What she gives us are archives, allegories, and wholly new songs.” —Terrance Hayes

“In these crisply narrative poems, which unreel like heart-wrenching
fragments of film, Arisa White not only names that gaping chasm between
father and daughter, but graces it with its true and terrible face. Every
little colored girl who has craved the constant of her father’s gaze will
recognize this quest, which the poet undertakes with lyric that is tender
and unerring.” —Patricia Smith

“Somewhere nearing its end, Arisa White says of Who’s Your Daddy, it’s
“a portrait of absence and presence, a story, a tale, told in patchwork
fashion . . .” This exactly says what Who’s Your Daddy is, though it
doesn’t say all it takes to do justice to the mythic paradox an absent
parent guarantees a child, young or grown, or what it takes to live with
and undergo such birthright. There’s not only a father’s absence and
presence, there’s a mother who says “you raise your daughters, and love
your sons,” there are stepfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, a grandmother,
brothers, lovers, all of whom leave their marks and give and take love.
Surrounding the whole book hovers the questions do I forgive him, and is
forgiveness possible? This beautifully, honestly conceived genius of a book
shook me to the core.” —Dara Wier

Goodreads | Pre-order

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About the Author

Arisa White
Photo credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow and an assistant professor of creative writing at Colby College. She is the author of four books, including the poetry collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, and coauthor of Biddy Mason Speaks Up, winner of the Maine Literary Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for Middle-Grade Nonfiction. She serves on the board of directors for Foglifter and Nomadic Press. Find her at arisawhite.com.

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For more about the book, and to follow the blog tour, click the button above.

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I’m delighted to welcome Rojé Augustin to Diary of an Eccentric today as part of the blog tour for her poetry collection Out of No Way, which has received rave reviews. She is here to share a guest post, but before I have Rojé take over, here’s a little about the book:

Author, producer and emerging poet Rojé Augustin has written a groundbreaking debut collection of dramatic poems about hair care entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker and her daughter A’Lelia Walker. Out of No Way: Madam C.J. Walker & A’Lelia Walker, A Poetic Dramatracks Walker’s phenomenal rise from penniless orphan to America’s first self-made female millionaire in dramatic verse.

Born Sarah Breedlove to former Louisiana slaves in 1867, Madam C.J. Walker was orphaned at seven, married at 14, became a mother at 17, and was widowed at 20. After the death of her first husband, Sarah moved to St. Louis with her daughter where she earned $1.50 a day as a washerwoman. When her hair starting falling out she developed a remedy and sold her formula across the country. In the process she became the wealthiest Negro woman in America. Rojé’s highly original and accomplished poetry is written through the lens of the mother/daughter relationship via different poetic forms — from lyric poems to haikus, blackout poetry to narrative (one poem takes its inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’) — with each chapter addressing issues relevant to their lives at the time.

Written against the backdrop of the Jim Crow era, Out of No Way is ultimately an examination of what W.E.B Du Bois called “conflicting identities.” Sarah was a proud African American on the one hand and a woman seeking America’s acceptance on the other. She was a pauper who achieved the American Dream while denied the rights and protections of the American Constitution. She was a wife, mother, and businesswoman who juggled the demands of family with the demands of career. And she was an orphan who had to transcend a brutal childhood in order to be a loving mother to her child. As Du Bois stated at the time, “One ever feels a two-ness. An American, A Negro…Two warring ideals in one dark body.” Indeed Madam C.J. Walker/Sarah Breedlove was an American and a Negro, as was her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, both of whom likely viewed herself through their own conflicting identities. What did they see?

Out of No Way tells Walker’s remarkable rags-to-riches story by exploring thoughtful questions — What impact did Sarah’s busy work life have on A’Lelia? What was the bond between a mother orphaned so young and the daughter who might wait days or weeks for her return? Could the death of her parents when she was a child have compromised Sarah’s nurturing instincts? How did A’Lelia feel about their newfound wealth? What, if any, were the drawbacks of that wealth?

Amazon | Goodreads

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I’ve asked Rojé to address the following: Explore how your research into the mother-daughter relationship informed your poetic work, and has it given you greater insights into how you, as a working mother, tackle your responsibilities? Please give her a warm welcome!

As a working mom, you often feel torn between giving your all at work and giving your all at home, particularly where your children are concerned.  You feel torn because you quickly realize that being a great mom and being a great (insert profession here) cannot happen simultaneously, the two goals are mutually exclusive.  In other words, you can’t give your all at work, while also giving your all at home because doing so only supplies divided attention, which causes both work and home to ultimately collapse, not to mention you.  At some point, you start to feel you have to make a choice or else risk losing it all — work, family, sanity.  But even when you do choose one, assuming you have a choice, there is always a sacrifice.  Always.  I think this is true for most working parents.

Having experienced this conundrum myself, I wondered quite a lot about Madam C.J. Walker.  Here was a woman who, like the vast majority of her peers, actually had no choice.  She had to work and she had to raise her child.  What then were her particular sacrifices?  What were her sufferings as a result?  It occurred to me that family is often the first sacrificial lamb for any parent who has no choice but to work fifty, sixty, or seventy hour work weeks, as Madam C.J. Walker had when she was Sarah Breedlove, washerwoman & cook.  And children especially are the frontline.  The first to feel the gaping hole left by a parent’s absence.  A’Lelia must have felt this, too.  What did that look like?

Filtering my research through this line of inquiry informed my work tremendously because it offered emotionally rich possibilities with which to write the poems.  The mother-daughter relationship is an inherently complex and poignant affair often explored in the novels of black authors — take the works of Jamaica Kincaid for example — but less so in poetry.  I wanted to convey a sense of what their dynamic might have been given their unique set of circumstances.  Madam Walker was orphaned at age seven, a mother at seventeen, a widow by twenty.  She was only one generation removed from slavery, she had to navigate life through the whip of Jim Crow, and the lynching of black people carried out with impunity.  And yet she had the awesome resilience to raise herself and her child out of poverty and into prosperity in less than ten years, by working really hard and working all the time.  One goal was very clearly achieved.  What of the other?

As for myself, I discovered through this creative exercise that I am guilty of tackling my working-mom responsibilities with the pressure of perfection weighing heavily on my psyche.  But it never works.  I inevitably spin myself into exhaustion.  Best to just strive for balance and hope for the best.  Which, I guess, for me is perfection.

Thank you for sharing your story and Madam Walker’s with us, and thank you for my guest today!

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About the Author 

Rojé Augustin

Rojé Augustin is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her first novel, The Unraveling of Bebe Jones, won the 2013 National Indie Excellence Award in African American fiction. She wrote the novel while living in London and Sydney as a stay-at-home-mom. She established Breaknight Films shortly after her move to Sydney in 2009 to develop and produce television projects across a range of formats, including television, web, and audio. Her first Sydney based project was a podcast and visual web series called The Right Space, which explores the relationship between creatives and their workspace. Rojé continues to work as a television producer while also writing in her spare time. She is an Australian citizen who currently lives in Sydney with her Aussie husband and two daughters.

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Giveaway

As part of the blog tour, there are two copies of Out of No Way up for grabs (digital for international entrants; print for U.S./Canadian entrants). This giveaway ends Oct. 31, 2020, and you must enter through Rafflecopter. Good luck!

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Click the button for more about Out of No Way and Rojé Augustin, including video readings of her work, and to follow the blog tour.

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Source: Review copy from publisher

Elizabeth Hazen’s Girls Like Us is a collection of poems that packs a punch from the start. (You can read the collection’s opening poem, “Devices,” and Hazen’s inspiration in last week’s guest post.)

Hazen writes about the power of language, and that power radiates through every poem in the collection. These poems are honest and brave, shocking and edgy without feeling forced. There’s a heaviness to these poems, but moments of empowerment as well.

As a woman, it was hard not to feel like the narrator was telling my story.

What simplicity
to be as silence or as air — there yet

not there. But it takes such work to disappear,
and secrets threaten to spill from you like liquor
you can’t hold. You tell yourself you’re someone else.

(from “Against Resignation”)

 

How do words —
lacking form beyond the curve of font, the flick

of tongue, the measure of my breathing — break,
so easily, a bond?

(from “Diamond”)

There were many poems like these, where a line would just hit me in the gut and I recognized myself on the page. The narrator’s experience is not exactly my own, yet I understand, have felt that precise feeling.

Know that your body may be numb awhile,

and when you see yourself revealed in paint,
note the proportions, but ignore the faint

glimmer he put in your eye that isn’t you.

(from “Times from a Nude Model”)

Hazen’s poems are personal yet universal, strong yet vulnerable, and she deftly packs so much emotion and meaning into a few words.

and though she scrapes away the corrosion, a new battery is not
enough, and the hours pass, though not exactly as before.

(from “The Clock”)

Girls Like Us is a collection of poems that begs to be read multiple times. I spent a few hours with these poems and took away so much, yet I feel I only scratched the surface. Hazen’s unflinching take on the female experience is one that I won’t soon forget.

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Giveaway

Two copies of Girls Like Us are up for grabs as part of the blog tour. To enter, you must use this Rafflecopter link. The giveaway runs July 24, 2020. You must be 18 or older and have a U.S. mailing address to qualify.

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Click the button below for more information about the book and the author, and to follow the blog tour.

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My guest today is Elizabeth Hazen, whose poetry collection Girls Like Us is next on my to-read list and is one I’ve really been looking forward to. Elizabeth is here to share a little about the collection and her inspiration for the poem, “Devices.” I hope the poem makes all of you as excited to read the collection as I am. Please give Elizabeth a warm welcome!

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Girls Like Us is a collection of poems — many of which are deeply personal examinations of my own struggles — about being a female in a society that, despite notable progress, is still mired in misogyny and violence toward women. The idea for the book arose organically; I found that everything I was writing, in one way or another, questioned the roles into which I had been trying to fit myself, the conflicts I had with men, and the sense of anxiety and shame that seemed to shadow not only me, but also so many women I know.

With the 2016 election and the increasing volume of discourse around women’s rights and the doubling down on derogatory attitudes toward women by men (and women) in positions of power, what had been incidental in my poems became more intentional. That is to say, I consciously decided I wanted to write about the impact misogyny has had on me. I wanted to write my experiences for the women I know who have had similar experiences, for the men who have played roles in those experiences, for the men who would help us change things, for the victims of abusers who were finally being identified and tried for their crimes, for the girls I teach and have taught, and maybe most of all, for the girl I once was.

The #MeToo movement stirred up painful memories, but also woke in me a desire to dig deeper into the past and an acknowledgement that my experiences, while significant to me, were not unique; every woman and girl I know has experienced the negative impacts of a society that constantly is telling us who to be and who not to be, often asking us to embody contradictory personas and punishing us for failing to achieve what is impossible. I hope my audience is not limited to women, though; I hope for men to look more closely at their own complicity in this system, and to understand what so many women – their mothers, sisters, partners, daughters – have experienced, often in silence and resignation.

The first poem in the collection, “Devices,” came to me shortly after the whole “Pussygate” debacle and the subsequent reports from women who accused Trump of sexual assault. I was thinking about language and its power in both promoting possibility and also in limiting it. I thought a lot about how language, too, can be an act of violence, and one that is insidious because it is easy to dismiss as harmless – sticks and stones, and so on.

Of course, as a poet and an English teacher, a belief in the power of language is at the core of everything I do and everything I care about. I spend a lot of time each year teaching my students about figurative language and trying to impress upon them how powerful language can be. I thought about the numerous ways in which we use language to degrade women, and how the repetition of this language impacts our psyches and warps the way we see ourselves. Thus, “Devices” came to be as my own form of protest and my response to the moment.

Devices

Rhyme relies on repetition: pink drink,
big wig, tramp stamp, rank skank. Alliteration

too: Peter Piper’s pickled peppers, silly
Sally’s sheep – silly trumping smart because

the lls create consonance. Assonance
repeats vowel sounds: hot bod, dumb slut, frigid bitch.

Even his line — “Girl, we’ll have a fine time”—
or her refusals — “No! Don’t!” In metaphor

we compare two things. Suppose a man calls
a woman fox; we understand this is

not literal. Same goes for pig, dog, chick.
Same goes for octopus, as in, “His hands

were all over me.” Metonymy relies
on association: suits, skirts, that joke

about the dishwasher –If it stops working,
slap the bitch! Synecdoche reduces

a thing to a single part: he wants pussy,
by which we must infer he wants a woman.

We’ve been called so many things that we are not,
we startle at the sound of our own names.

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Thank you, Elizabeth, for being my guest today and for sharing that powerful poem!

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About Girls Like Us

Girls Like Us is packed with fierce, eloquent, and deeply intelligent poetry focused on female identity and the contradictory personas women are expected to embody. The women in these poems sometimes fear and sometimes knowingly provoke the male gaze. At times, they try to reconcile themselves to the violence that such attentions may bring; at others, they actively defy it. Hazen’s insights into the conflict between desire and wholeness, between self and self-destruction, are harrowing and wise. The predicaments confronted in Girls Like Us are age-old and universal—but in our current era, Hazen’s work has a particular weight, power, and value.

Goodreads | Amazon

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About the Author

Elizabeth Hazen

Elizabeth Hazen is a poet, essayist, and teacher. A Maryland native, she came of age in a suburb of Washington, D.C. in the pre-internet, grunge-tinted 1990s, when women were riding the third wave of feminism and fighting the accompanying backlash. She began writing poems when she was in middle school, after a kind-hearted librarian handed her Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind. She has been reading and writing poems ever since.

Hazen’s work explores issues of addiction, mental health, and sexual trauma, as well as the restorative power of love and forgiveness. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, American Literary Review, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, The Threepenny Review, The Normal School, and other journals. Alan Squire Publishing released her first book, Chaos Theories, in 2016. Girls Like Us is her second collection. She lives in Baltimore with her family.

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Giveaway

Two copies of Girls Like Us are up for grabs as part of the blog tour. To enter, you must use this Rafflecopter link. The giveaway runs July 24, 2020. You must be 18 or older and have a U.S. mailing address to qualify.

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Click the button below for more information about the book and the author, and to follow the blog tour.

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To my readers who reside in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia and are high school students or the parents of one (or who know someone in these locations with a high schooler), please check out the below press release regarding the Gaithersburg Book Festival’s Annual High School Poetry Contest! The contest is being coordinated by Serena from Savvy Verse & Wit, and if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments, and she will respond. Thanks!

Open Theme for the Gaithersburg Book Festival’s Annual High School Poetry Contest 

Winning poet to be awarded $250 prize at 2020 Festival on May 16 

Gaithersburg, Md. – October 10, 2019 – The Gaithersburg Book Festival is proud to announce its annual high school poetry contest is now open for submissions. First and second place winners will receive $250 and $100, respectively. Third place and fan favorite winners will receive $50 and $25, respectively.

Winners will be unveiled at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 16, 2020, at its new, temporary location – Bohrer Park at Summit Hall Farm (506 S. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg, MD 20877).

“We’re so excited to again feature a High School Poetry Contest as part of the 2020 Gaithersburg Book Festival,” said Jud Ashman, Festival chair and Mayor of the City of Gaithersburg. “Student submissions last year were outstanding and the finalists got to meet some incredible poets and authors.”

To participate, students must be enrolled in grades 9-12 at a public or private school, or be in a homeschool program, for the 2019-2020 school year. Additionally, entrants must reside in Maryland, Virginia or the District of Columbia.

There is no restriction on form or topic. Poems should be typed in 12 pt. Times New Roman and not exceed one page in length. Each student can submit one poem as a Word document (.doc or .docx). File names must only contain the title of the poem (e.g., The_Red_Fern.doc); they should not include the name of the student or school.

Poems must be the original work of the student and must not have been previously published online or in print. By submitting work to the contest, students grant the Gaithersburg Book Festival a non-exclusive license to publish, distribute, transmit and exhibit the poem, and any portions thereof, via any medium without financial compensation.

Poems must be submitted electronically via web at https://tinyurl.com/yyvgqdpl by midnight ET on Thursday, February 20, 2020.

Up to 12 poems will be selected as finalists and posted on the Gaithersburg Book Festival website prior to the Festival. For the first time, finalists will also be asked to record a video of themselves reading their poems, which will be posted on Gaithersburg Book Festival website. A release will be required.

Prizes will be provided courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus.

Complete rules and regulations can be found online at https://www.gaithersburgbookfestival.org/gbf-programs/poetry-contest/. Questions can be emailed to writingcontest@gaithersburgbookfestival.org.

About the Gaithersburg Book Festival

The Gaithersburg Book Festival is an annual all-day celebration of books, writers and literary excellence. One of the premier literary events in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, the 2020 Festival is scheduled for Saturday, May 16, at Bohrer Park at Summit Hall Farm (506 S. Frederick Ave.) in Gaithersburg, Md. Activities will include author appearances, discussions and book signings; writing workshops; a Children’s Village; onsite sales of new and used books; literary exhibitors and food, drink, ice cream and more. FREE admission and accessible shuttle will be available from Shady Grove Metro and Lakeforest Mall. The Gaithersburg Book Festival also hosts author events in Montgomery County throughout the year as a way to encourage continued appreciation for all things literary. For more information please visit www.gaithersburgbookfestival.org, follow us on Twitter @GburgBookFest or like us on Facebook.

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My guest today is poet Jessica Goody, whose latest collection is Phoenix: Transformation Poems. Jessica is kindly sharing a poem from the collection: “Jazz.” Please give her a warm welcome!

Transforming Pain into Poetry

Because I tend to think in images, a lot of my poetry is ekphrastic–inspired by artwork.

I am endlessly inspired by the lives and exploits of artists, like the Beats, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Bloomsbury Group. My poetry collection Phoenix: Transformation Poems features numerous odes to artists of every stripe–writers, actors, painters and musicians.

The opening poem, “Jazz,” is about Henri Matisse. Confined to a wheelchair following major surgery, he could no longer climb ladders to paint murals, so he covered the walls of his studio with butcher paper and drew with extra-long pencils. When arthritis left him unable to continue sculpting, he switched to collage, cutting shapes out of colored paper and arranging them in patterns to create Jazz, a book of decoupage art.

I believe that well-chosen words are the greatest agents of change; they provide hope to the suffering and clarity to the misguided. Phoenix offers glimpses of meaningful lives and explores what it means to be fully human. These poems cover a wide variety of subject matter, including beauty, creativity, and courage, but the main theme is transformation–the triumph over pain and trauma and the resilience of the human spirit.

Jazz

Patterns catch the eye, crawling along wallpaper

and upholstery in a melange of colors and textures,

rendering the room as exotic as a harem, draped with

vivid slipcovers of Moroccan arabesques and damasks.

 

The wallpaper blooms humid tropical foliage,

blood-red blossoms unfurling behind the heads

of odalisques reclining on striped pillows, the divan

curving beneath them like the body of a lover.

 

A backdrop of vibrant fabrics curtain the room like a seraglio.

Oushaks and kilims burn underfoot as the light shines

through the lacework windows and shuttered doors,

where beaded lamps drip crystals atop runner-draped tables.

 

Orchids and potted plants crowd every surface, swarming

the carved mantel and bowlegged iron tables. Lovingly arranged

into precisely disheveled still-lifes, the palm fronds spread their graceful

green arms to the sun, tendrils inching upward like ivy.

 

Joyful nudes dance along the walls. Cobalt blue outlines

like police silhouettes stretch and tumble, leap and caper.

Tinted ultramarine, the color of distant horizons,

they resemble woad-stained Celts, rangy of limb and sinew.

 

Matisse lies abed in his atelier, industrious as Proust,

surrounded by a sea of colored paper, scattered leaves

and whimsical shapes that might be flowers or flames,

strewn petals drifting to the floor like shards of glass.

 

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Jessica Goody

Jessica Goody is the award-winning author of Defense Mechanisms: Poems on Life, Love, and Loss (Phosphene Publishing, 2016) and Phoenix: Transformation Poems (CW Books, 2019). Goody’s writing has appeared in over three dozen publications, including The Wallace Stevens Journal, Reader’s Digest, Event Horizon, The Seventh Wave, Third Wednesday, The MacGuffin, Harbinger Asylum and The Maine Review. Jessica is a columnist for SunSations Magazine and the winner of the 2016 Magnets and Ladders Poetry Prize. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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To follow the blog tour for Phoenix: Transformation Poems and for more about the collection, click the button below

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My guest today is Diamante Lavendar, who is celebrating the release of her newest poetry collection, Finding Hope in the Darkness of Grief. I’ve asked Diamante to share a poem from the collection and its inspiration, and I’m hoping you all find it as moving as I did. Please give her a warm welcome!

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You Shone Like The Sun On Autumn Leaves

You shone like the sun on autumn leaves,
Their remaining life brief before they fell from the trees.
The sun’s light was strong, the warmth intense,
Just as your heart:  loving, immense.
But the leaves shriveled up and neared their end,
Just as you when you left, my child, my friend.
Your meaning lives on in every new day;
I begged God for time to extend your stay.
It’s a hard lesson to learn that you have no control
Over life, over love, over a darling child’s soul;
All we can do is sift through the hours
And beg for provision, mercy and power
To experience life’s sentence of lessons and fate
Before we, too, find ourselves in heaven’s estate.
Love us and guide us from your ethereal view,
Until one day we are reunited with you.

I wrote this for my daughters who passed away.  One only after ten hours’ time and the other after nearly nineteen years.  Both heartbreaking.  Devastating.  But I know that they are still alive and well beyond heaven’s veil.  They visit me and make themselves known not only to help me write so that I can help others but also to let me know they’re okay so that my heart doesn’t break beyond repair.  They gift me with a sense of purpose and meaning, with the understanding that heaven is real, it’s not just a wish or a fantasy.  Because of them I know that this life is a learning ground that leads to bigger and better things.  And I am exceedingly grateful for that knowledge and to be able to pass it along to others who are embattled and mourning.  We all need to know why we’re here and what our actions will lead to in the future.  And we all need to be comforted and to know that beauty is looming on the horizon no matter how much pain we’ve encountered on planet earth!

Thank you, Diamante, for sharing your poem and story with me and my readers. I hope that it helps others find comfort and healing.

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About Finding Hope in the Darkness of Grief

Finding Hope in the Darkness of Grief is a winner of a Pinnacle Achievement Award for Spirituality.  It is also the recipient of a Silver Medal from Mom’s Choice Awards!

This earthly plane offers much for us to learn: happiness, wisdom, loss, heartbreak, and enlightenment. It is a Pandora’s box of emotions, situations, opportunities, and failures, all wrapped into a package we call life. Nobody is immune, but everyone has the opportunity to grow tall or wither like a flower in harsh light. It’s completely up to us how we choose to respond.

Finding Hope in the Darkness of Grief is a gleaning of insights from artist Diamante Lavender. For her, life has been a long, difficult road, but it has taught many poignant lessons. Her poetry collection is an exploration of the human soul, a traversing of situations that life throws at us. Diamante has always been intrigued by the ability to overcome and move on to bigger and better things.

She writes to encourage hope and possibility in those who read her stories. If she can help others heal, as she has, then Diamante’s work as an author and artist will have been well spent. She believes that everyone should try to leave a positive mark on the world, to make it a better place for all. Writing is the way that she is attempting to leave her mark–one story at a time.

Find the book on Goodreads and Amazon

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I’m pleased to welcome Nancy Richardson, author of the poetry collection An Everyday Thing, to Diary of an Eccentric today to share a poem from the book and the inspiration behind it. Please give her a warm welcome!

Notes on a Poem

     by Nancy Richardson

 An Everyday Thing

 notes of the students’ lawyers, Kent State Trial

 

one round was fired on the hill.

what did they say?

you can see smoke in the pictures.

good hair, the jury likes him.

find the impeaching part.

cause she’s so pretty

watch out for hearsay and conclusions.

did you see anyone carry any bodies?

he put the blame on me for his fuck-up.

you have any phenobarbital?

he gave the order to kneel and take aim.

if he hadn’t heard the order to fire.

he’s getting scattered, tell him to sit down.

can you help me cash my paycheck?

one person in troop G emptied their whole clip.

he’s been ineffective lately.

the net gain is clearly worth the cost.

he had his hand on his holster.

Bill was not dead there.

I yawn to mask my true sentiments.

when you play in the mud you get dirty.

say thanks to Charlie.

isn’t death an everyday thing for everyone?

he said if they rush us shoot them.

how come you’re saving all the notes?

This poem is a found poem constructed from the real notes of the students’ lawyers in the Kent State civil trial of 1975. I moved to Kent in the summer of 1970, three months after 13 students had been shot by the National Guard. Four students died and one was paralyzed. Others had significant wounds.  The campus was swarming with undercover agents from various organizations and a large number of student resistors. Students and several organizations that promoted justice began the process of sorting through the various theories of what had occurred in order to bring the shooters to justice. This turned out to be an arduous and unsuccessful process in Ohio, where support for the Vietnam War was strong and suspicion of student activists was high.  The students lost the civil trial of 1975 and later received a pittance of a settlement from the State of Ohio.

My sister, Galen Lewis, was the chief researcher and paralegal for the trial.  She and her partner, Joseph Lewis, Jr., who had been shot at Kent State, moved from Ohio to Oregon in 1975. Both became active in social justice causes.  Galen became ill and died in 1990.  Although many of the documents from the Kent State shooting were given to Yale University, these notes remained in her possession and she gave them to me.

In sorting through them, I began to realize that the notes told a story and that the story would make a poem.  I struggled a bit to select the important notes and to arrange them in an order which would require the reader to develop a sense of the background theme of the trial without having that theme explained in the poem. The notes would also provide a sense of how the lawyers felt about themselves and the defendants in the charged atmosphere of the trial.  The question “isn’t death an everyday thing for everyone?” is a striking statement, both philosophical and surprising.  I assume that this was a statement characterizing the strategy of the defendants lawyers in minimizing what had occurred and in characterizing the shootings as accidental. This poem was the beginning of a series my poems on the Kent State shootings and illustrates how little progress we have made over 48 years in coming to terms with our propensity for guns and violence.

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About An Everyday Thing

Richardson’s poems concern coming of age in the rust-belt of Ohio during a period of decay of the physical and political structures that made the region once solid and predictable. Her poems chart the shifting of the foundations upon which a life is built and the unpredictability of events that have profound personal and political consequences, including the shootings at Kent State University.

Buy here

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About the Poet

Nancy Richardson

Nancy Richardson’s poems have appeared in journals anthologies. She has written two chapbooks. The first, Unwelcomed Guest (2013) by Main Street Rag Publishing Company and the second, the Fire’s Edge (2017) by Finishing Line Press concerned her formative youth in the rust-belt of Ohio and the dislocation, including the Kent State shootings that affected her young adulthood. In An Everyday Thing, she has included those poems and extended the narrative to memories of persons and events and the make a life.

She has spent a good deal of her professional life working in government and education at the local, state, and federal levels and as a policy liaison in the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Education and for the Governor of Massachusetts. She received an MFA in Writing from Vermont College in 2005 and has served on the Board of the Frost Place in Franconia, NH. Visit her website.

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Thank you, Nancy, for being my guest today, and congratulations on the release of An Everyday Thing!

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Source: Review copy from author

Kin Types is the newest poetry collection by Luanne Castle in which she recreates the stories of her ancestors. (Read the collection’s opening poem, “Advice from My Forebears” and the inspiration for it here.) She draws you in right away with lines similar to what many of us have heard from our elders, like “Quit scowling or your face will freeze that way” (“Advice from My Forebears,” page 2). I soon found myself immersed in the poems about Dutch immigrants who made their way to Michigan and forged a life, often difficult, judging from many of the poems, but hopeful as well in that these lines are written by their descendant.

From a mother who rushes into a house fire (“An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought off Dutch Pete”) to the fast-forwarding and rewinding that recounts the ups and downs of a marriage (“And So It Goes”), from the tale of a family who loses everything (“The Weight of Smoke”) to the names and connections that are uncovered when digging into a family’s history (“Genealogy”), Kin Types is about raising and confronting the ghosts of the past, making sense of the lives that came before us, and honoring the struggles and the sheer grit and determination that keeps the family tree growing over the generations.

Castle’s poems are narrative in style and haunting in that they portray some of the darkest moments in a family’s history, but they give us a glimpse of happiness and hope as well. The quote that opens the collection says it perfectly:

“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.”

-Liam Callanan

It is easy to see how different today is from the era of the woman portrayed in these poems, but Castle does a brilliant job enabling readers to put ourselves in their shoes, at least for a handful of lines. It is virtually impossible to read Kin Types and not imagine the stories of your ancestors, especially those who you’ve heard about but who lived too long ago for you to have met. This collection is powerful in that, just as in the closing poem, “When Your Grandfather Shows You Photographs of His Mother,” it makes you consider how these long-dead people are reflected in who you are today. Kin Types is the best poetry collection I’ve read in a while, and one I won’t soon forget.

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Disclosure: I received Kin Types from the author for review.

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Luanne Castle is my guest today to celebrate the release of her latest poetry collection, Kin Types. She’s here to share a poem from the book and its inspiration. Please give her a warm welcome!

Advice from My Forebears

Always use hot pack canning for your green beans
and test your seals at the end.

Don’t grab a burning oil stove without considering
the consequences.

Don’t get in debt. If you don’t got it, don’t get it.

Make up your mind what church you’ll attend
and go there as often as you can stand.

Be Dutch or you ain’t much.

Get the log out of your own eye so you can get
the speck out of the other’s eye.

We can’t talk about it, but here’s your great-grandma’s
Eastern Star ring so you will have a signal.

Never pick a fight but if someone hits you,
hit them back.

Always plant marigolds in your vegetable garden
and keep a compost pile out beyond the shed.

If they come to your door, feed them. Then send
them on their way.

Just let be.

Be careful with a needle; that’s how your Grandpa
got blinded, coming around his ma’s knee.

Sit on my finger, nobody ever fell off.

Watch your step on deck so you don’t fall off the boat
and get skewered by the anchor like your Uncle Lucas.

Don’t quit writing like I did. Make me a promise.

Quit scowling or your face will freeze that way.

If you see somebody’s thumb stuck in the dyke,
don’t pull it out.

“Advice from My Forebears” was first published in the museum of Americana (Fall 2015) and then in Kin Types.

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The origins of my desire to recreate family stories lies with my grandfather—and with his storytelling and advice. He was the one who told me how his Uncle Lucas was killed by falling on an anchor as a young man in Goes, Netherlands. Also, he described running into his mother’s sewing needle and being taken to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for treatments in 1910. That’s how I learned that danger lurked even in the household.

When I began this poem, I had my grandfather in mind, but I was also thinking of a list a newfound relative gave me. I had met him through my family history blog, The Family Kalamazoo. His mother was Grandpa’s mother’s first cousin. He had compiled the list of advice his mother had given him in the 1930s. The list sounded familiar to me as it contained the phrasing and sentiments I learned from Grandpa. This one, for example: “If they come to your door, feed them. Then send / them on their way.”

The poem became a list much like the list given to me, but with advice passed on over several generations, as well as advice added on with new events. Grandpa was no doubt warned about his uncle’s death by his own parents and grandparents, as his uncle had died fourteen years before he was born, but his own accident with the sewing needle was a newer addition to the family lore. In the most recent event, my grandmother who had wanted to be a writer made me promise not to give up writing.

Family history is a compilation of layered stories, added to by each generation. Much is lost as well, but by repeating what is worth passing on we learn by hearing both the inspirational and the cautionary tales.

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About Kin Types

Kin Types is based largely upon genealogy and a fascination with what comes to all of us from the past. A mix of poetry in the traditional sense and highly poetic prose pieces, the collection takes the reader on a journey into the lives of women and somewhat into the lives of men who must carry on alone once the women are gone. The journey of this collection is not a ramble into the past, but a slingshot into the here and now by way of these portrait tales.

Check out Kin Types on Goodreads | Amazon

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About the Author

Luanne Castle

Winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Doll God, Luanne Castle‘s first collection of poetry, was published by Aldrich Press. Luanne’s poetry and prose have appeared in Grist, Copper Nickel, River Teeth, Glass Poetry Press, Barnstorm Journal, Six Hens, Lunch Ticket, The Review Review, and many other journals. Published by Finishing Line Press, Kin Types was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf chapbook contest.

Luanne has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English and creative writing at the University of California, Riverside (Ph.D.); Western Michigan University (MFA); and the Stanford University writing certificate program. Her scholarly work has been published in academic journals, and she contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. For fifteen years, she taught college English. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Visit her website.

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