One Great Things about Part Three of Layli Long Soldier’s “Ȟe Sápa”

poemWhere do I start with this poem?

I mean literally where does one start to read this third section of Layli Long Soldier’s “Ȟe Sápa”?

This seemingly simple page—a square created by four lines with the same repeating internal rhymes—creates so much room for consideration.

One of my two favorite ways to read it is: “To see this space / is this place / The space in me you see / see how you place me in you / This is how you see me the space in which to place me / This is how to place you in the space in which to see”. The other is to simply stare at the middle of the square made by these lines and be overwhelmed by its space, asking myself about the place the poem puts me in.

The first time I read this section of poem over a year ago, I simply didn’t get it. It made me empathize with the people who “just don’t get poetry.” I felt at first as if I was being toyed with. It struck me only recently, that this poem had been serving as a container for my ego and that I couldn’t get past that. I spent so long asking of it what it could be telling me that I neglected to see what this form or this particular arrangement of lines is showing me.

The act of reading poetry is an exercise in the stripping of cynicism. It is a confrontation of the words themselves as they’re arranged on the page. What meaning we derive from them is inherently personal—after all, we can only carry our own unique constellation of experiences. In making meaning, however, we draw connection—to not just the poem or the writer, but to the broader work of humanity.

This poem, as much as anything else, is a poem about how we read. It asks what we’re willing to see and how we choose to see it. The moment I let go of my own conception of what a poem is supposed to be or how one is supposed to look—in short, my cynicism—the poem began to unfold endless meaning.

Of course, more context helps. It might help to know that Long Soldier’s poem is a dedication to the Black Hills mountain range that stretches from South Dakota to Wyoming. Perhaps if we knew that, we could say something clever about the shape of this section of poem mirroring the shapes of those states and the nature of arbitrary boundaries. If you knew that the Black Hills were wrenched from the Lakota Nation, of which Long Soldier belongs, you might even say something incisive about what the form of this poem says about the relationship white folks have with land and putting up boundaries—or the humanitarian atrocity of rounding up Indigenous folks and confining them to reservations, hidden from view and erased from public and political discourse.

Any and all of that is probably be true.

To me, these four lines are about the words on the page. They are, in equal measure, about everything that’s been deliberately left out. I see rhymes and the repetition of the same rhymes, too—an elegant, self-referential trick reminding us to look within.

Yours in words,
Dujie

 

One Great Things About “My Father’s Dying in Emojis”

There is something almost telepathic about the way Jennifer Jackson Berry’s poem affects me, something nearly alien in its method of communication. To borrow a phrase, I’d almost say the poem is “like a mood that passes through you.”

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I first read “My Father’s Dying in Emojis” in Pacifica Review; years later and I still think of it. I feel as if my experience of time and story-telling has been altered by the poem’s completely image-driven text. Too often we divide and simplify poetry by labeling it narrative or lyric, as if music alone couldn’t tell a story, as if there weren’t rhythms buried in our favorite tall tales. Berry efficiently turns this binary on its head and creates the most wrenching narrative using emoji translated into their lyrical (and unaltered) literary equivalents. What is a kind of digital-age, visual cliché becomes a mood, a moment, a movement of loss. By taking emoji off our screens Berry creates something amazing and new on the page, a hybrid language that is innovative as well as traditional, a lyric of loss told through a modern lens.

“Splashing Sweat, Pensive Face.

Warning Sign.”

The piece opens, and immediately the meter propels you. The story unfolds in flashes, a poetic and emotion-filled slideshow. Every emoji described is both instantly identifiable (Hear-No-Evil Monkey, Black Sun With Rays) yet surprisingly juxtaposed against the others. Each one shifts the scene forward a little, each one brings its own emotional complexity. It is a poem that shouldn’t succeed but does due to Berry’s ability to pinpoint the core importance of every image and place them so effectively. There is no confusion over what is happening, how the narrator reacts and feels. Readers are led along, practically possessed.

The repetition in the penultimate line (“Poultry Leg, Poultry Leg, Poultry Leg.”) is strange and wondrous as the repeated “blackberry, blackberry, blackberry” from the famous Robert Haas poem. I am given over to grief and gorging, to a paltry, weak-kneed state. In the end when we are left with a “Leaf Fluttering in Wind,” I am struck by the frailty of it all, an E.E. Cummings-esque loneliness, the emptiness and brevity of everything. That ending, haiku-like, blows me wide open.

So often while looking down at my phone I miss the poetry of the world around. Never did I expect to find awe while looking at the small screen itself. What is your favorite emoji, from the poem or otherwise? Are you able to look at any of them in the same way, or are you, like me, transformed?

Yours in words,

Michael

One Great Thing about “Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder (Complicated Grief)”

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 4.10.29 PMDear friends —

The violence of loss is palpable in the pared down couplets of Chelsea Dingman’s poem “Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder (Complicated Grief)” in Phoebe Journal. Each line cuts like an unexpected wind across exposed skin. It incants in a way that wracks and wracks against the reader, violent grief from everywhere.

Nature is the common thread through this particular loss. A woman bent in childbirth, “orphaned forget-me-nots,” a doe that visits and then doesn’t, a growing belly, emptying trees, blackbirds with “threadbare wings.” In its relation to nature, the poem becomes a study of deep, unending grief. It dissects loss, points to how it infiltrates from everywhere, from even the places you think you can trust. This poem pulls back the skin to reveal how sometimes grief gets into your marrow, replaces life with empty space, becomes something unshakeable. The core of you now built of loss.

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“Let me know,” “let me know” the speaker begs. In the wake of loss, we beg to know. We want a warning of what was to come. And in the begging the speaker is exhausted even with the idea of loss: “I’m tired / of mourning what is lost here…” This grief has gone beyond the waves we all know and has become a diagnosable condition.

One of the symptoms of Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder is “persistent feelings of emptiness.” This poem does what a DSM-5 definition cannot. Dingman’s language shows how grief leaves the speaker hollowed out like the dead creature the blackbirds circle, hollowed out like branches as “The green season recedes,” hollowed out like a womb, hollowed out like a child you can’t hold (“The child who hanged herself / inside me before birth”), hollowed out like violence with no necessity or mercy.

The poem ends with the hollow of questions that plead, like beating against the trunk of a tree waiting for it to answer. I would argue that this poem does what the best poetry does: it gathers us, both writer and readers, into a space where we can sit side by side silently, with the wind echoing through our own particular hollow spaces, asking unanswerable questions.

Yours in words,

Meghan

 

One Great Things About “Winter”

Or should I call this by its unofficial but easily-recognizable title, Chen Chen’s poop poem? I don’t know exactly how to prepare you for a poem that opens with a line both irreverent and musically, sonically gorgeous: “Big smelly bowel movements this blue January morning.”

Stick with me. If I say the subject of the poem is shit (literally) but the theme is the most tender love, would you believe me? No? Then read “Winter;” let Chen convince you.

Chen’s prize-winning debut “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities” (BOA Editions) has been one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past few years. As a poet, a romantic in love, as a Japanese person navigating America, I am heartened by this book, encouraged. Reading this book I have felt less alone and cheered. This poem, a celebration of the body as a vehicle of waste and desire, is no different and leaves me feeling brighter. 

One of Chen’s admirable talents is his ability to allow multiple identities (as lover, as a political being, etc.)  to inform his poetic voice in an organic way I myself have trouble with. What a thrill to find someone who does what you can’t! He creates harmonies among identities. No wonder it reverberates in so many parts of me. No wonder I am filled with an envy that tasks me to write better.

But I am never discouraged. I am only motivated to be a more complete version of myself.  “I am trying to be marvelous” as Chen himself writes.

Lately, I have pondered the nature of action and change, what good we can enact in society. Sometimes I think the smallest acts can truly change the world. A smile to a stranger. Creating a chart in order to make your co-worker’s life just a bit easier (thank you Emilie, for this particular example.) At the end of the day, as in the end of the poem, maybe it comes down to changing the sheets for your sick beloved. When I read “Winter” I am almost sure if we just did one unconditional thing for someone else, if we had someone look at us and simply say “What? Hey. I love you,” I think we might be okay after all.

Yours in words,

Michael

 

One Great Things | February Book Giveaway!

Here at One Great Things we are (obviously) obsessed with reading & we want to spread our giddiness as far & wide as we can. One thing we want to do is share some of our favorite books with you! Every month we are going to giveaway one of our favorite books. Just tell us your One Great Things recommendation in the comments of this post or on Twitter & we will randomly choose a winner. 

This month we are giving away a copy of Eloisa Amezcua‘s From the Inside Quietly from Shelterbelt Press.

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Here’s what poet Maggie Smith had to say about this book:

“In From the Inside Quietly, Eloisa Amezcua writes, “in my own mind / I’m a mirror. // I see everything // except myself.” This book holds reflection—both the noun and verb of it—at its core, from “the bottom of the pool // opal and shimmering” to meditations on language, intimacy, and the self. These poems trouble themselves with what we know and what we don’t: what a daughter knows of her mother’s difficult childhood; what a psychiatrist knows of his patients that their own families don’t know; what we know of our lovers; and what we know of ourselves. Despite all the tricks of light and shadow a mirror can play, all the tricks of distance and shape and proportion, in this stunning collection we encounter a poet who sees, feels, and writes with aching clarity.”