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Interview by Joni Wallace
Mary Jo Bang's books of poetry include Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2007), which received the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and was listed as a New York Times 2008 Notable Book, and The Bride of E (Graywolf Press, 2009). She was the poetry co-editor at Boston Review from 1995-2005, and has been the recipient of the Alice Fay Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University. She is a professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis. Her translation of Dante's Inferno, with illustrations by Henrik Drescher, will be published by Graywolf Press in July, 2012.
Joni Wallace's poetry collection, Blinking Ephemeral Valentine (Four Way Books, 2011), was selected by Mary Jo Bang for the 2009 Levis Prize.
JW: The character driven poems of Louise in Love, the ekphrastic poems of The Eye Like a Strange Balloon and the abcedarian poems of Bride of E strike me similarly as enactments of a disembodied consciousness: the workings of the mind set out for view on a series of revolving stages. Multiple interruptions take place - ticks and tocks, ringing phones (an effect I love), nursery rhyme chatter, trains, literary texts. Mickey, Minnie, Alice, Freud, Cher and others make appearances, influence poetic outcomes. For me your poems function both as glittering spectacles and intimate conversations, all ultimately engaging the experience of what it means to be human now. How do you see yourself, the poet, in relation to your work? Conductor, actor, set designer, alchemist, beautiful fly on the velvet backdrop?
On September 17, at 11:30 a.m., participants from the Hopi Foundation's Owl and Panther Project recite original work on themes of war and peace in response to Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children's Paintings, on display at the Poetry Center from August 29 to September 23. Join us!
The Hopi Foundation's Owl & Panther project will take part in the Speak Peace exhibit on display at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, even knowing that we walk a fine line when we ask those whose lives have been damaged by war to speak back, speak out, speak peace to images depicting that very aggression.
Our participants are as young as five and a few grandfathers are as old as sixty. They come from Congo, Guatemala, Mali, El Salvador, Chile, Iraq, Nepal, Bhutan, Ethiopia and Somalia. Each carries private memories of the brutality of war, some the scarcity of camps. Others still witness a family member's ongoing battle with PTSD's haunting night visitors.
When introducing Speak Peace, one woman balked. She wouldn't write about war. Done, flat out refusal. She didn't want to look at the images projected at the Poetry Center the night we introduced the project. But the images weren't all bombs and mayhem. And she will be invited to choose one with a band aid on the world, or an image where peace is already peeking out from the scarred earth. And if that proves difficult at all, she'll be asked to paint her own soothing image from which to speak peace.
M. A. K. Halliday, a prominent British linguist, has expressed the difference between written and spoken language thus: "While the complexity of conscious language is dense and crystalline, formed by a closely-packed construction of words and word clusters, the complexity of unconscious language is fluid and choreographic." If we, like Halliday, are used to such a distinction being upheld -- in the differences between newspapers and small talk or memos and meetings -- then Thomas Sayers Ellis' Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems will at first seem strange indeed.
Ellis, commenting on poetry's split into spoken-word and academic camps, stresses that his aim is "to make every line do both." And because his most recent collection is a book rather than a performance or a recording, his lines strike their reader as shockingly choreographic for their form.
Speak Peace: American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children is an international, collaborative traveling art exhibit out of Kent State featuring paintings by Vietnamese children and American responses in the form of poetry. The Poetry Center invites you to visit this exhibit from now through September 23, 2011. On Saturday, September 17, from 11:30 - 12:30 participants in the Hopi Foundation's Owl & Panther Project will give a reading of their responses to the paintings in this exhibit. Join us.
I have no specific qualifications to address authenticity in writing as it relates to war, so let's get that out of the way. Assisting with Marge Pellegrino in the Speak Peace project has been my first experience of the kind. My students in the Tohono O'odham and Yaqui communities live with hardship, pain, and grief to a degree I scarcely can imagine, and produce writing of a rare eloquence and authenticity from that background, but I realize it isn't the same.
I even find it hard to define the slippery "authentic." We can't even say that "we know it when we see it." We may not agree upon what strikes that note in us when we read, view, or hear what we believe to be authentic. Sincerity seems a necessary component but not a sufficient one. Rarely do we hear the response, "I admire the authenticity of the piece, but unfortunately it's terrible." The authentic must capture a truth, as well, and probably artfully.
You know the scene. The actress is standing under a stream of running water. You get a glimpse of her collarbone, of her calf. You understand that she is at her most vulnerable. You worry something horrible is going to happen. And then it does.
The shower scene from Psycho has become one of the most legendary and recognizable moments in film history. So much has been said, analyzed, parodied from Psycho that you might think that there is nothing new to be explored, but What You See in the Dark is evidence that this is not true. In his past short story collections, Manuel Muñoz has revealed his stellar lyricism in prose and skillful craft of individual stories and in his debut novel, he seamlessly weaves in and out of voices, in and out of parallel narratives to reveal something about the intricate nature of human beings' motivations, desires, and fears.
In Desire, Reclining, Cully weaves philosophy, mythology, history, memory, loss, and the self into poems that flow and beckon like water. These elegaic prose poems create the effect of ocean upon the mind--they are meditative, expansive, uncontainable even as they are formally contained.
The book is organized into sections that count off their poems in numbers, like the passage of time, like breathing. We are lulled by the counting, and could easily get lost in the vastness of the ebbing words that follow. The section titles help us keep our bearing, guide us along a life, toward the inevitable coming to rest.
by Elizabeth Frankie Rollins
Elizabeth Frankie Rollins' work has appeared in Conjunctions, Green Mountains Review, Trickhouse, The New England Review and The Cincinnati Review, among others. An excerpt from her novel, Origin, is forthcoming in Drunken Boat. She is the author of The Sin Eater, Corvid Press, 2004. She's received a NJ Prose Fellowship and a Special Mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology. She teaches writing at Pima Community College and fiction classes at the Poetry Center.
One of the things I am always trying to teach my students is that the most important tools for being a writer are already inside of each writer. That's why she writes and what she seeks to understand and the shape of her voice resides, already, always, within her.
One of the ways I emphasize this is through my writer's five-brain theory. Just as a cow has four stomachs, each to do a different kind of digesting, I propose that there are several levels that function in a writer's brain. Which brain we tend to operate from defines our writing style and choices about textual content. In the infinity of books on the shelves of the world, you will find styles driven by each of these brains, and combinations of these brains. There is no best choice for all writers. Each brain is valid.
Wordplay blogger, Adam DeLuca, observed an afternoon of "Creative Writing in 3-D" for middle school students earlier in June and shares these thoughts.
Today was my first day observing creative writing in 3D Summer Camp for middle school students here at the Poetry Center. I'll start off by saying that even though I have only seen a portion of the camp, it is easy to see what a great time the kids are having. The camp is run in a way so that the counselor's get the campers to be active and involved no matter what the activity is, if it is discussion, presentation or an art project. Collaboration between the campers is also a key part of the camp. Not only do the exciting projects get the kids working, but they get them working together. In the camp today they were discussing symbols in our world, such as symbols in books they have read or even pictures of graffiti in our cities. They considered how these symbols can be used as metaphors or be seen in many different ways. They discussed a picture of a peace sign spray painted over a one way road sign and threw out ideas about what it might stand for. Some said that it may mean that peace shouldn't be a one way street, where as others took it as peace is the only way to go. Later one camper drew a symbol on a white board and then everyone else came and added something to the symbol. The symbol grew and grew with each addition and ended up being a hilarious picture of some creature with pony tails. They then were able to talk about how the drawing was affected by new additions. The constant interaction between the kids and the counselors kept the brainstorming going and really sparked the creativity in the kids. At one point the kids were given envelopes with symbols in them and the object was to write down as many things in one minute that were the opposite of what that symbol may stand for. These types of activities cause the campers to think out of the box and spark creativity with their work while still being able to have a good time.
A fourteen-year-old boy posts videos of himself crooning tunes on YouTube. The same boy later becomes one of the biggest pop sensations of 2010; his success all due to the largest video sharing website there is, YouTube. Forty-six years worth of videos are watched every day; and 24 hrs worth of footage are uploaded every minute. I am part of a generation that the majority believes YouTube to be a staple of every day life. Its presence is almost as unnoticed as breathing though it is a vital player to our daily tasks and the music industry.
When Barack Obama ran in the most recent presidential election he used the Internet to create a grassroots movement and the same thing happens on YouTube. Local artists start up YouTube channels that allow direct interaction between the artist and the viewer, meaning an artist has a lot more exposure. By subscribing to an artist on YouTube you allow a more personal and effective way of building up a fanbase. The Internet allows voices to be heard across the masses while allowing personal interactions.
When reading poetry nothing is without meaning and the same could be said about social interactions; our words often only telling half the story and our punctuation, tone, and body language finish our tales. But what exactly is the protocol of nonverbal communication? Should we take the abbreviation of words to simply mean laziness or could they mean more? In a text from my mother she wrote, "i luv u," and I couldn't help but wonder if she really felt it. I know she loves me but one cannot help but think if she does why hadn't she taken the time to write it out? Don't words have meaning? Every time I browse through Facebook and see declarations of love, hate, and happiness (misspelled of course) I can't help doubt whether they mean it. If you aren't going to spell correctly what importance does it have? Why does the internet lessen the expectations for spelling? I don't understand the difference between when writing to friends by hand and texting. When writing poetry someone can use spelling as a tool, bending words to fit their needs, in a way much like people do on the internet today. I guess the only difference is thought. Which brings me back to the most important question: does misspelling mean anything? Poets use the tool with care, a sign of thought, and we use it without thought. When people post on Facebook pages "ily" (I love you) I think they mean it but it seems as though they don't feel it. That's what the internet does-it takes the feeling out of interactions. We don't have to take the time to write out I love you on the internet because we can mean it but we can never feel it.