Results May Vary: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review from Estelle

Today I’m excited to share a CLW guest post from Estelle:

“But the thing about what-ifs is that you can drive yourself crazy, spinning your thoughts around and around until you’re dizzy; and for all that, you only ever end up in the same place you’re standing. All you can work with is what happened.”

Results May Vary by Bethany ChaseAt first sight, Results May Vary (2016) by Bethany Chase probably seems a story solely about a broken marriage. Caroline finds out that her husband has had an affair — after 10 years of marriage and utter devotion others find sickening — and she must decide what to do next? Does she forgive Adam like her friends and family think she will do or will she retreat into a new direction and embrace the unknown narrative ahead of her?

The funny truth is no matter the path she chooses, the narrative changes. The dynamics with her husband, the person she thought knew her best and she thought she knew best, will forever be changed even if she decided to stay. Just like where she lives, who she hangs out with, and the next person she sleeps with will alter the routine she’s gladly accepted for herself since high school.

Nothing, nothing will ever be as it was.

Results May Vary could easily have turned into a will-they-or-won’t-they kind of novel, but that’s not Bethany Chase’s style. And her style is exactly why I felt like this book would be a perfect fit for Emma’s Chick Lit feature. Caroline isn’t just someone’s wife. She’s an independent woman who is well-respected at her job at a museum. It’s a job she fought to take even if this meant moving a less-than-thrilled Adam out of New York City. She has a solid support system including a best friend from college, a younger sister, and a feisty artist friend who knows the value of a yummy ice cream topping. Caroline’s not afraid to curse out her husband when he can’t explain why he had an affair, she’s not against keeping him at a distance even though he wants to a swift reconciliation, and, because she’s human and not robotic, she’s not afraid to collapse in the arms of others and give into her sadness when she needs to.

I’m messing up the Pinocchio quote for obvious reasons but she’s a real girl!

So much of this book is about Caroline settling into herself — whether that means forgiveness or not, you’ll have to find out — and allowing other parts in her life to rise when the once solid ones start to crack. The girl power explodes when her little sister, Ruby, moves into the house and the two rekindle a sisterhood they hadn’t had since they were super young. Their relationship is one of the most memorable of this entire book because, while both are in their own versions of transition, they both prove to be there for one another: whether it’s about scary face masks or sharing a glass of wine.

Of course, this relationship isn’t without its complexities either. (Sisters.)

And that’s just what I mean. When I started getting into young adult books about five years ago, I was exhausted by new fiction that reflected nothing new at all. There was absolutely nothing for me to relate to, and I found the emotions I was searching for — raw and so real — in YA. It’s a pleasure to be welcomed back into the big kid world with books by authors like Chase who get it. Women are more than one thing. We can be strong as anything, but we can break down just as easily. We can be happy even when we are grieving. We can make one decision and then change our minds. We are constantly works in progress – no matter how settled we might be in one area over another.

When I finished reading Results May Vary, I felt empowered. I don’t think there’s much more you can ask for from a book.

Possible pairings: The First Husband by Laura Dave, After I Do and One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid; Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer, Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

***

By day, Estelle is a book publicist for (mostly) kid books. She is also the co-creator of Rather Be Reading Blog, where she blogged for almost 5 years with her best friend. Always writing and always brainstorming, you can find her on Twitter @thatsostelle.

Poetically Speaking with Alexandra Hernandez

poeticallyspeaking2Alex is an aspiring young adult author and publicity assistant living in New York. When she is not immersed in the pages of a great book, she is taking dance classes. Her passion right now is salsa.

Alex is also one of my favorite bookish people and one of the first friends I reached out to when I was looking for new contributors to Poetically Speaking this year. Today Alex is sharing one of her poems and talking about how and when she started to write poetry.

—-

What Abuela Carries

A poem by Alexandra Hernandez

Abuela carries a large wooden spoon,
to stir the pot of hearty sopa we use for healing.
For a cold, for a bad day, for a broken heart,
Especially then…
Our medicine.

She carries the pain of it,
Our heartache.
She may not always understand it, or agree.
But she pushes against the weight of it,
Our defeat.

Abuela carries our brown eyes, our Taino tan skin, our dark hair,
Although hers has long been gray.
She passes them on and on down the line.
As we grew, we cut it, we dye it, we change.
But she carries our original form, for it was hers to begin with.

Abuela carries his heart in hers.
She keeps it there, like a secret.
Their secret.
Maybe she knew from the beginning,
That he wouldn’t always be hers.
Before her, he belonged to another, after all.
Nights spent dancing in corners of darkened rooms,
Surrounded by strangers that could never judge them.
Those memories, she carries them too.

Abuela carries that baby in her belly,
That baby she didn’t plan.
That baby is my mother.
She is heavy.
Heavy with love she already has for a child she’s never met,
She is already her pride and joy.
With this blessing, she also carries guilt, anger, pain.

Most of all,
Abuela carries strength.
She carries hope.
She holds it high for us to see when she wipes away our tears,
When she feeds our bellies.
Abuela carries proof.
That even in darkness,
There is light.

My relationship with poetry has evolved over the last few years. To be honest, it’s not something that has always been part of my creative writing life. However, I realized fairly recently that while I loved to hear poems read aloud, it scared me to try writing them. My favorites poets are great writers of love like Shakespeare, Rumi and Pablo Neruda. When I was a child, I was all about Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. Most recently, I discovered and fell in love with contemporary poet and fellow Latina, Mirtha Michelle Castro Marmol and the social media juggernaut, RM Drake. But with my own work, I felt that my poems were slightly melodramatic and, frankly, not very good. For me, reading them back, I sounded awkward or like I was trying too hard to sound deep and insightful.

A few years ago, a family friend and mother of an old dance student of mine approached me about my writing. She wanted to know if I’d be interested in contributing a number of pieces to an anthology she was editing about grandmothers, or Abuelas, as we call them in Spanish. She spoke to me about The Abuela Stories Project, about the fact that the contributors were all women of color with powerful stories to tell and as much as I wanted to be part of that, the old fear snuck back in. I did not consider myself a poet by any means.

“It doesn’t have to be a poem!” She insisted, her bright, contagious passion beginning to rub off on me. “It can be an essay, short story, anything that inspires you.” Easy for her to say. I’d heard her read her poetry aloud before – it was electric.

But I thought about it. It wasn’t the first time I would be writing about my own Abuela. At the time, I was taking a memoir writing class in college and she had been the focus of many of my projects. My Puerto Rican heritage, ancestry, and the secrets of my family’s past have always been of great interest to me and I spent a lot of time that year reflecting on where I came from, the people I came from. And so, as intimidated as I had felt, I knew I wouldn’t be saying no to the project. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to connect with other writers and to put my own thoughts down on paper.

Fast forward to the end of last year and the pieces were due. And still, I was second guessing myself. Since our first talk about the Abuela Stories Project, I had fallen in love with spoken word, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side, and using poetry as a therapy, whether it was screen shooting my favorites from Instagram or starting a small collection of books. So it wasn’t that I felt uninspired! I just never considered myself to be a poet. I was already struggling with using the word WRITER to describe myself.

In November, the writers of the Abuela Stories Project came together for a writing and reflecting session at El Fogon Center of the Arts in the Bronx. It was my first time meeting all of the women at once and while I thought I would be more shy and reserved, I started to feel comfort within this circle. I felt safety. I felt acceptance. During one of the writing exercises, we were given a prompt – What Abuela Carries. I don’t know why but my first instinct was to use the prompt as an opportunity to try writing a poem. I never thought anyone would see it. It was meant to be for my eyes only. I wrote and wrote. I took the poem home and I worked on it again. I worked on it until it became something I could really be proud of and wanted to share with people. I haven’t read it aloud to an audience yet but it’s something I feel like I might want to do in the future. The best part is, it makes me want to write more poems. It makes me want to connect with that more hidden part of myself. It makes me want to incorporate my Latina pride into other works, like my young adult fiction writing.

When Emma asked me to take part in her poetry celebration for National Poetry Month, I said yes right away because it felt like more opportunities were presenting themselves for poetry and sharing that in a new forum. I can honestly say that poetry has grown into a new role in my life and I can only hope that it’ll continue to inspire me and prove to me that I can write anything, as long as my heart is connected to it. So, Happy National Poetry Month, readers and friends. Here’s to the greats. And here’s to us making our own magic.

Thank you Alex for this terrific post!

If you want to follow her on social media, you can find Alex here:

You can also learn more about The Abuela Stories Project at their website: http://abuelastories.com

Poetically Speaking with Jessica Spotswood (+ Giveaway)

poeticallyspeaking2

Jessica Spotswood grew up in a tiny, one-stoplight town in Pennsylvania, where she could be found swimming, playing clarinet, memorizing lines for the school play, or—most often—with her nose in a book. She now lives in Washington, DC where she can be found working as a children’s library associate for the DC Public Library, seeing theatre with her playwright husband, or—most often—with her nose in a book. Some things never change.

Jessica is the author of the critically acclaimed Cahill Witch Chronicles and the editor of A Tyranny of Petticoats, an anthology of feminist historical fiction short stories.

Her latest novel, Wild Swans, will be released May 3, 2016.

Today Jessica is here to talk about Wild Swans and the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

(And thanks to Jessica I’m also hosting a giveaway for a finished copy of Wild Swans! Click for details and see the end of this post for more info on the giveaway.)


WILD SWANS has changed a lot from its original conception – perhaps the most of any of my books – but the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay has always played a role.

Back in the fall of 2013, I’d just read April Tucholke’s brilliant BETWEEN THE DEVIL & THE DEEP BLUE SEA. I loved the creepy-gorgeous atmosphere of it and admired how the Citizen Kane, the family’s crumbling old mansion by the sea, functions almost as another character. I’ve always loved setting-heavy books, and I was in a strange place with my career, where I’d just finished my historical fantasy trilogy and wanted to write something completely different. So, I set out to write a sort of Gothic-flavored contemporary mystery. I decided that the house in my new book would be a big white farmhouse on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, right on the Chesapeake Bay.

And in the book’s early incarnation, the house was haunted. Not – as it is now – figuratively, by the weight of being a Milbourn girl. (Everyone in their small town knows what it is to be a Milbourn girl: Talented. Troubled. Cursed.) Originally, there was a ghost of a woman – a famous novelist – named Dorothea whom Ivy’s granddad had built his career studying. She’d written one Great American Novel, which had been made into a famous, award-winning film, and then – like Harper Lee – become a recluse. Only, over the course of the summer, as Ivy worked with her granddad’s cute student to archive Dorothea’s journals, they discovered a series of clues that perhaps Dorothea hadn’t written the novel after all. Perhaps she’d stolen it. Perhaps she’d murdered someone to keep that secret. And perhaps her ghost was willing to murder again to make sure it stayed secret. One of the clues that Ivy and Connor would stumble upon was the Millay poem “Dirge without Music.”

But…the thing is, I don’t actually know how to write a mystery. I am constantly surprised by TV whodunnits. I do not have a suspicious, logical, clue-parsing mind. The book, in that incarnation, was clearly not working.

An editor who read the beginning suggested that perhaps I could take the ghost and the mystery out and still have a summery, character-driven, romantic YA. It was a little more complicated than that. But Dorothea became Ivy’s grandmother, who was selfish and talented and troubled, but not murderous. And now the plot revolves around a family legacy of both artistic talent and mental illness. Ivy and Connor still work together to archive Dorothea’s journals, but now Dorothea’s a famous poet.

And Connor is a poet, too, who has tattoos of snippets of poems he loves. One of those poems – one that means so much to him that it’s tattooed right over his heart – is “A Dirge Without Music.” (I’ll let you read the book to find out why.) In early days, that was the epigraph for the book, but – well, it is not in the public domain.

My editor, searching for a title, read some Millay and came across “Wild Swans.” She suggested that as the title. And when I read it, it felt appropriate:

I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over.
And what did I see I had not seen before?
Only a question less or a question more;
Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying.
Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,
House without air, I leave you and lock your door.
Wild swans, come over the town, come over
The town again, trailing your legs and crying!

To me, this speaks to the yearning that the Milbourn women feel. Ivy, like her mother and grandmother and great-great-grandmother, is ambitious and ambivalent about small-town life. She clings to the comfort of it even as she finds it suffocating. “House without air, I leave you and lock your door” – this line particularly resonated with me; it nails how I think Ivy’s mother feels about the house and the town and how desperate she is to escape, no matter who she hurts in the process.

I’m so happy that this poem is in the public domain, so I can share it here and as the book’s epigraph!

Thank you again to Jessica for this wonderful post. Remember to stop by Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway to win a finished copy of Wild Swans. Giveaway will run from today through May 3. US only. Winner will be notified on May 4 via email. If I don’t hear from them by May 5 I will pick a new winner. You can enter the giveaway here: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ccfb7e5a23

If you’d like to learn more about Jessica and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://jessicaspotswood.com

You can also read my review of Born Wicked here on the blog.

Poetically Speaking with Lindsey Krabbenhoft

poeticallyspeaking2Lindsey Krabbenhoft is a children’s librarian in Canada and one half of the duo behind the ever-popular Jbrary. When she isn’t working in the library or sharing insights at Jbrary, Lindsey can often be found sharing poetry on Twitter with #flashpoetry and Poetry DeathMatch or matching readers with poems at her site A Poem for a Feeling.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Lindsey through Twitter in the past year and as I began planning for Poetically Speaking 2016, she was one of the first people I knew I wanted to feature as a contributor.

Lindsey is talking about when she developed a love of poetry (especially love poems) and what she does to share poetry with the world.

Poetry’s been with me my whole life.  My mom tells me that when I was a child I would sit and listen to nursery rhymes and children’s poetry for as long as she would read.  Always one to encourage a love of reading, she bought me a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein when I was 8, and I fell in love right then and there.  By age 9 I was parading around the house reciting “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout” and enlisting the listening ears of my younger sister.

By the time high school hit, I was one of the few people who didn’t let out a groan when we read poems in our Language Arts courses.  Though there was a fair amount of what I call “beating the love of poetry out of people by asking them what a poem means,” it didn’t deter me.  Instead, I focused on poems I liked even if I had no clue what they meant. In fact, it was during high school that I created a poetry journal. Filled with my favourite poems, songs, and a few writings of my own, I decorated the pages with pressed flowers and pictures from magazines. When I was 18 the journal completely filled up and it was no surprise to anyone that I decided to major in English Literature when I headed to university that fall.

I fell in love with love poetry my junior year at college when I took a course called Love and Desire in Contemporary American Poetry.  We studied male and female portraits of desire, erotic poetry, romantic poetry, LGBTQ poetry, and love poems in translation. I was pleasantly shocked by the honesty in the poems I read.  More than that, I learned things from those poems – about people’s lived experiences and observations. One of my favourite poems I read in that class is homage to my hips by Lucille Clifton:

these hips are big hips

they need space to

move around in.

they don’t fit into little

petty places. these hips

are free hips.

they don’t like to be held back.

these hips have never been enslaved,

they go where they want to go

they do what they want to do.

these hips are mighty hips.

these hips are magic hips.

i have known them

to put a spell on a man and

spin him like a top!

To this day, I’m an avid reader of poetry, love poetry in particular, though I think of love as multidimensional. There’s desire, romance, that giddiness of new love – but there’s also loss, heartbreak, and surprise. We love suddenly, tentatively, nearly, passionately, incurably, regretfully.  Poems provide the best expression of these feelings. If you’re looking for an outstanding collection of love poems I highly recommend Penguin’s Poems for Love selected by Laura Barber and She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems selected by Caroline Kennedy.

Recently, I’ve started to share poems via social media.  It began when I created something on Twitter called #flashpoetry.  If you favourite one of my tweets within a given time period then I’ll send you a poem.  The goal is to give people a poetry boost during the day when they might least expect it. Periodically I also run #poetrydeathmatch which pits two poems against each other, letting my Twitter friends vote for their favourite one.  This is a fun experiment for me because not only do I have to search for two poems on a common theme, but I also love seeing which one people favour. Lastly, I created a website called A Poem for a Feeling. Enter a feeling and I’ll send you a poem based on that feeling. My friends call me their Poetry Fairy Godmother and it’s a title I cherish.

Poetry for me is about feeling. How different people take words and arrange them in a way that makes my heart beat faster. How seeing a particular phrase makes tears spring to my eyes. It is the utter joy of the unexpected in language that reels me in time and again.

Thank you Miss Print for letting me share my love of poetry with others!

Thank you to Lindsey for this fabulous post! I hope you all try her Poem for a Feeling site!

If you want to hear more from Lindsey you can find her on:

Poetically Speaking with Karuna Riazi

poeticallyspeaking1Karuna Riazi is fond of tea, Korean dramas and writing about tough girls who forge their own paths toward their destinies. Besides pursuing a Bachelors in English Literature, she is an online diversity advocate and blogger. Her debut MG, The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand, will be released in 2017 under Simon and Schuster’s new Salaam Reads imprint.

Today Karuna is talking about finding her own path to poetry.

—-

My Path to Poetry

I am in love with the idea of poetry. I have little verses tucked away, like strands of hair behind an ear: written in the margins of a long abandoned school notebook, trailing down a peeled off Post-It note that previously graced the sacred insides of a library book.

I grew up engrossed in Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learned Astronomer” and felt a tangible tingle down my spine observing Emily Dickinson’s “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass.”

My world grew colorful, in sharp bursts of realization and sunlight, as I became exposed to Rita Dove and Gwendolyn Brooks and glorious, full-voiced Maya Angelou. The words glittered and jostled each other and I strung them up my arms and layered them about my neck like they were jewels.

I wanted to be able to do that, too. I wanted to be able to pluck out perfectly faceted phrases that made you shudder, made you want to shout and fling yourself back in the grass and stare up at the balmy sky and cotton-clump clouds and feel utterly alive in every sparking, seething vein of your body because someone has put every feeling down into words that you didn’t even think of parsing out so finely.

I nudge words together like magnets, seeing which will snap together with the admirable alliteration I particularly enjoy – and which will disappointingly, laughably press back, offended at the idea that they could possibly have anything in common.

I haven’t been able to find the gift yet that I so admire in others. I feel like there is more to it than experimentation and liking some words more than others (in the best occurrence of favoritism there might be).

At least, I’ve reached the point where I understand that poetry can be for me.

My domain is novels. I’ll never be able to devote as much time to individual poems as I will into entirely shaped books with outline-spines of romance and adventure and intrigue, and that is entirely okay.

My main fear is a lack of beauty. If there is anything I hunger to see in my words, it is a lush, tangible aesthetic: a visual rendering of the feelings that teem through me and that I always associate with the turbulence of being an adolescent. So I try and experiment and like some words more than others and sometimes wonder if I’m going about all of this the right way.

What helps me carry on is the fact that I’ve seen how the beauty of the poem can seep into the density of prose. Nova Ren Suma is a master of it, as are Laini Taylor, Shveta Thakrar, Sarah McCarry, Holly Black, Roshani Chokshi, Anna-Marie McLemore and so many other glorious writers bringing a jewel-like charm and well spun beauty to stories that already glisten and gleam.

Their words reach down into my chest and wrench. They show me that it can be done, it should be done, that there are people out there who know how to balance the sublime meter of poetry into the often unfettered extents of prose.

It can be done. It should be done. It is just a matter of finding the right way to string the words together and the right amount of heart to mete out between my fingers and offer up for the magic to happen. Perhaps this is the awkward stage where I need to want, very, very badly, and watch the masters I so admire at work on their craft, and stare up at the balmy sky at some point and feel utterly alive in every sparking, seething vein of my body and hunger for a way to let all of that spill out on paper.

This is my path to poetry. It unravels with every new voice I stumble upon that lingers in the corners of my mind and tugs the corners of my lips up. It sprawls against my feet and nudges, insistently, when I’m turning the pages of a book that embodies everything I want to be – and want to continuously, constantly indulge myself in no matter what form of media I’m currently consuming.

Perhaps one day, it will unfurl to the point that I will be able to say, too, with appropriate charm and a little twinkle in my eye, “I am a poet. And I know it.”

But that day is not today. At least, though – at the very least – I know that I want to reach that day. I want to be able to unfold stories over my lap and point to the fire, glowing threads that make up their intricately crafted tapestries.

And for now, I continue to bask in the sunlight glow of poetry’s hope and beauty and occasional brisk blue sorrows. I continue to be reminded of how important it is to be so utterly alive, in every sparking, seething vein of my body, and hungry to become more and express more and know that there are others who feel the very same way.


Thank you Karuna for this thoughtful post!

If you want to learn more about Karuna be sure to follow her on Twitter: @karunariazi

Poetically Speaking with Lesléa Newman

poeticallyspeaking2Lesléa Newman is the author of seventy books including poetry collections Still Life with Buddy and October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (novel-in-verse). She is also the author of the groundbreaking children’s book, Heather Has Two Mommies. Her latest works include the children’s books, Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed, and the poetry collection, I Carry My Mother, whose title poem has just been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. 

Today Lesléa is talking about imitation in writing poetry and how she used that as a starting point for several poems in her latest collection I Carry My Mother.

STEALING AWAY

by Lesléa Newman

“Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.”

I can’t remember who I stole that quote from. Which doesn’t make me a great writer necessarily. I am, however, a pretty good thief.

I started my career as a crook back in the 1980’s when I was attending the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute. I was studying with such literary luminaries as Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Ted Berrigan, and Alice Notley, and one of them put a life-changing book into my hands: Rose: Where Did You Get That Red? The author, Kenneth Koch is often credited for being the granddaddy of the “poetry in the schools” movement, for he was one of the first poets to go into the public schools and teach children how to read and write poetry. How did he do it? He read the children great poems and had them write their own poems modeled on and inspired by the poems they heard. In effect, he taught the children how to “steal.”

And so I decided to give it a try. I am the kind of writer whose process consists of, as the writer Gene Fowler says, “sitting at the typewriter until three drops of blood appear on your forehead.” In other words, ideas for poems do not come easily to me. Once I do have an idea, I can work for hours, days, weeks, even years, to get the poem right. But more often than not, coming up with an idea involves a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

And so I turned to Koch’s book eagerly. Why invent the wheel when it has been invented before, and so beautifully? Why not use the already invented forms of beloved poems as a container to pour my own words into? I have found this way of writing especially useful when writing poems of grief, as I did in my most recent poetry collection, I Carry My Mother, which explores my journey through my mother’s illness and death and how I have carried on without her. My mother loved poetry, and this seemed like a fitting way to pay tribute to her. And when I sat down to write poems about my mother and how I mourned for her, my emotions were so unwieldy, I found it enormously helpful and comforting to have an already established structure to work with and make my own. The structures I “stole” not only held the poems together, they held me together as well. Perhaps this was because the poems I chose were so familiar to me, they were like old friends. And what better tonic for healing is there than to surround oneself with friends who have known you for the better part of your life?

One of the classic poems that Koch employed in his book and his teaching, is Wallace Stevens’ classic “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”

which can be found here:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174503

What is Wallace doing in the poem? He is taking something ordinary—a blackbird—and making it into something extraordinary by describing it in thirteen different ways. He looks closely at the blackbird, observing a tiny part of it in the first stanza: “Among twenty mountains,/The only moving thing/Was the eye of the blackbird.” He multiplies the blackbird and imagines three of them in the second stanza: “I was of three minds/Like a tree/In which there are three blackbirds.” He imagines the blackbird moving as part of a performance or pantomime in the third stanza. And so on. And in these various explorations, he not only observes the blackbird, he observes himself observing the blackbird. And thus he observes many things about life itself.

Here is something anyone can do, whether a novice or experienced poet. Simply put, the poem is a list of keen observations filtered through the poetic eye and imagination. The idea is to see something familiar as if one has never seen it before. One observes the familiar object as if seeing it for the first time. You can also use this form of poetry to observe a person, as I did:

THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT MY MOTHER

1

Among seven silent rooms

in the middle of the night

the only moving thing

is a swirl of smoke

rising from the lit tip

of my mother’s cigarette

 

2

My mother was of three minds

like the three sorry children

she would someday come to bear

 

 

3

My mother whirled through the kitchen

slamming drawers, banging dishes

clanging pots and pans

She was a noisy part of the pantomime

 

4

My mother and her mother

are one

My mother and her mother and her daughter

are one

 

5

I do not know which I dread more

arriving at my mother’s house

or leaving it

The pain of being with her

or the pain of being without her

 

6

Knitting needles click and clack

as something wooly grows

My mother stares at her creation

Her mood is indecipherable

 

7

Oh skinny blonde airbrushed models

staring up at my mother as she flips

through glossy magazines,

Why must you torture her so?

 

8

I know how to make matzo balls

big as fists

and how to live on nothing

but cottage cheese, cigarettes, and air

but I know, too

that my mother is involved

in everything I know

 

9

When my mother moved

from Brooklyn to Long Island

she marked the edge

of one of many circles

 

10

At the sight of my mother

staring back at me

at three in the morning

from the unforgiving bathroom mirror

I cry out sharply

 

11

I rode home on the train

and fear pierced me

in that I mistook

the phlegmy hacking cough

coming from three rows back

for the sound of my mother

 

12

The ventilator is on

My mother must be breathing

 

13

It was twilight all day

and all night long

she was breathing

and she was trying to breath

my mother lay in the ICU

her hand in mine

holding on for dear life

Another poem that Koch used very successfully in the classroom is “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams which has also become a classic and a favorite poem of English teachers everywhere. (There is even an entire book of parodies of this poem written by Gail Carson Levine entitled Forgive Me, I Meant To Do It). The poem, told in very simple language, is an apology. But the beauty of the poem is that the speaker is apologizing for something he really isn’t sorry he has done. In fact, it appears he is rather delighted with himself. Children (of all ages) love this poem, for who among us hasn’t apologized for something we do not regret in the least? The poem can be found here:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/245576

In this poem, the narrator has eaten some plums that “you were probably/saving” and then asks to be forgiven. The speaker then describes the plums as “so sweet/and so cold” implying that the plums were greatly enjoyed and the speaker really isn’t sorry for eating them at all.

For an imitation of this poem, I chose to write a note of apology in my mother’s voice and have her apologize to me. Was she sorry for leaving me? Yes…..and no.

LETTER FROM MOM, POSTMARKED HEAVEN

 

This is just to say

I’m sorry

I left

you

bereft

and alone

 

Forgive me

for being a daughter

like you

I always rush off

when my mother calls

come home

There are several more imitations in I Carry My Mother. I “stole” from poets both my mom and I adore including Dr. Seuss, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, and Robert Frost. I also “stole” from contemporary writers that my mother was not familiar with, including Molly Peacock and Meg Kearney. Since I know these writers personally, I contacted them to see if they felt okay about my thievery.

Both poets reacted in the same way. “What an honor!” wrote Molly Peacock when I sent her my poem, “At Night” which was inspired by her poem, “Of Night” which appears in her marvelous book, The Second Blush. And by the same token, when I sent Meg Kearney my poem “Wish List” which was inspired by her poem “Empty List Poem” from her fantastic novel in poems, The Secret of Me, Meg wrote, “I’m flattered,” and then went on to say, “‘Great poets steal,’ right?” I was pleased, and I admit, also relieved, that these poets whom I greatly admire felt, as I do, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

And so, I will continue to “steal” from poets whose work I admire. And who knows? Maybe someday, someone will honor and flatter me by “stealing” a poem from me.

“Thirteen Ways of Looking at My Mother” and “Letter from Mom, Postmarked Heaven” copyright ©2015 by Lesléa Newman, from I Carry My Mother published by Headmistress Press, Sequim, WA. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Thank you again to Lesléa for this beautiful post.

If you’d like to learn more about Lesléa and her books, be sure to visit her website: http://www.lesleanewman.com

Poetically Speaking with Estelle

poeticallyspeaking2Estelle is in between blogging gigs but is proud of her work at Rather Be Reading Blog and This Happy Place Blog. She’s a book publicist, a super Muppet fan, and thinks her cat is the cutest in the universe. She’s always tweeting @thatsostelle.

Estelle is one of my favorite people that I’ve gotten to meet through blogging/twitter and a great person to talk about books and all sorts of other things.

Estelle is joining Poetically Speaking today to talk about journaling, poetry, and Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally.

“It’s not like the paper will judge me, or question my sanity, or doubt my ability to lead a football game.” – Jordan in Catching Jordan

When my head gets crowded with too many negative thoughts and life is jam packed with twists and turns, books and yoga and spending quality time with people who make me laugh are high on my list of ways to cope. I’ve realized lately that when I was younger I would always write in my journal, and have asked myself (rather loudly) if losing that routine has made me a little less adept at dealing. (I’m sure this isn’t true but it’s a fair question!) So this year I made a small goal to write more (freak out less?) and so far it’s going… okay. 2016 has already been full of many adjustments, and while I’ve written in my journal more the last four months than I have in the last four years, it’s still a work in progress.

This leads me to Catching Jordan from the fabulous Hundred Oaks young adult series from Miranda Kenneally. Yes, readers, this is a great, feel-good series for the sports lover. Just look at those adorable book covers. But underneath, it’s so much more than that. Girls dealing with real life pressures, finding a balance between who they are expected to be and who they really are, and maneuvering life as imperfect humans. It may seem like a strange focus for a poetry feature, but Jordan was the first person I thought of when I started thinking about this piece. In her book, she’s the quarterback of her football team (only girl player), her father is an ex-professional player who isn’t exactly supportive of her football dreams, and Jordan is dealing with the very delicate balance of wanting to be respected by her fellow teammates and college recruiters for being a kick ass football player and finding herself falling for a guy for the first time and not wanting this to be seen as a sign of weakness.

Whew! It’s a lot.

I admire Jordan’s tenacity, her commitment to her game, her loyalty to her friends, and her strength — mind and body. But what I love the most is that when she’s the most out of her emotional element, she turns to a journal her mom bought her — a gift she totally made fun of — to be her safe place. Catching Jordan is peppered with pieces of poetry, expressing her frustrations with her dad and wanting his acceptance, choosing between her head and her heart, and even discovering her sexy side. Being the only girl on her sports team about to jump into a college life with similar demographics, Jordan is able to open up in ways she couldn’t on the field or in her applications. She didn’t know the first thing about poetry but throwing these words on the page untangled the complicated feelings in her head and gave a voice to many of the worries and stresses she wasn’t ready to share out loud.

only father

 

Watching my favorite sport

Watching my favorite brother

(okay, my only brother)

Watching my only father cheer for Mike

Smiling

Laughing

Shouting

Telling Mom how proud he is

Saying no father could have a better son

And I’m sitting right there

Ready to drown myself in nacho cheese

‘Cause all I have is football

And the person I want to share with with,

more than anything

Hasn’t even asked me if I won last night…

We’re not all going to grow up to be e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, or even Shel Silverstein, but I love that Kenneally shows readers that writing (in any form) can be a lifeline, even if it doesn’t see the light of day. That there’s nothing gendered about our reactions to certain situations and how we choose to deal with them. That sometimes the thing we laughed at (especially that thing our mom suggested we do) turns out to be just what we needed — at a completely different time. And most importantly, as Jordan finds out, there’s always more to discover about ourselves.

Thank you to Estelle for this great post.

If you want to hear more from Estelle you can find her on Twitter @thatsostelle

If you’re in NYC in July, Estelle will also be a speaker at BlogBound Con’s “Using Blogging in Your Career” Roundtable.