Posts Categorized: Poetry

Poetry Feature: here is the sweet hand you always turn back on yourself by francine j. harris

here is the sweet hand you always turn back on yourself

 

and hold where the ear goes and try to hear what you need to hear.

the way it was put. a bird went to the phone pole and knocked a hundred

times and here i was looking for a hammer all along to knock back.

 

all the tools are crushed. i swear to them i only make sense between periods.

translation comes awfully late and if the woodpecker got out of control, caught up

in a pole rung, for example. well, my forehead. i am well pecked and out of excuse.

 

there is nothing to sit on. or quit under. or curse out. or thump with my knuckle.

there is a malady of separate conversations converged under the woodpecker’s knockknock.

he is much louder than usual. and somewhere, i have already fucked off forgiveness

 

and died in the grass. and somewhere there is a hand. i ought to use it

to bury this pecked out eyeball with a mallet and a horseshoe. or a mortar and pestle.

and i ought to stop saying i can’t hear people when all i ever hear is this steady knock.

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This poem originally appeared in Indiana Review 31.2, Winter 2010.

Anni Liu (Poetry Editor): Some poems I love evade willful intellect, like those 3-D images you can only see by relaxing your eyes and staring past the surface. This poem by francine harris is like that. Its speaker weaves a complex world where sexuality, embodiment, violence, race, and language are both surface and background. This poem is punny, plain-spoken, and deadly serious.

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francine j. harris is the author of play dead, winner of the 2017 Lambda Literary and Audre Lorde Awards, and current nominee for a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. She is currently Writer in Residence at Washington University in St. Louis.

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Poetry Feature: “The White-Haired Girl,” by Sally Wen Mao

1945

I will return your spurn with a curtsy
whipped in boiling water.
Cut the red ribbon from my hair,
what’s left of my youth. Lotus seeds slide
down your throat—does it taste chaste?
The fugue of winter casts shadows
on the furnace—how it glowers
like the limpets buried in my hair,
handfuls of which you pull
towards shore, toward stagnation.
My destination is not this village,
where boars shear off bad skin
in the river, dung and alderflies
thirsting for flesh. Am I maid
or mendicant? The unwrinkled bed
is not what sky aches for. I am no swooning
debt. Next I say escape and small gullies
bloom before me—dendriform paradise:
mountain, grotto, kindling. The lightning
in my temple wards off wolves. I bow
only to pick the ticks off my shoes,
brand them clean across your cheekbones.

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Read more…

Online Feature: Translation from Wild Honey is a Smell of Freedom by Anna Akhmatova

Привольем пахнет дикий мед,

Пыль – солнечным лучом,

иалкою – девичий рот,

А золото – ничем.

Водою пахнет резеда,

И яблоком – любовь.

Но мы узнали навсегда,

Что кровью пахнет только кровь…

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Wild honey has a scent—of freedom

Dust—a scent of sunshine

And a girl’s mouth—of violets.

 

But gold—nothing.

Water—like mignonette.

And like apple—love.

But we have learned that

 

Blood smells only of blood.

 

1934, Leningrad

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(translated by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky)

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This poem appeared in Indiana Review 33.2, Winter 2011.

Anni Liu (Poetry Editor): The equations that make up most of this spare, needle-like poem are ways of knowing. To link the dust to sunshine and the girl’s mouth to violets makes the world more tangible by performing an intimate epistemology. But, as the end of poem suggests, there is a limit to figurative language, especially when it comes to making images from brutality and oppression. I am grateful for this translation that connects us to Akhmatova, giving us the opportunity to sense what she and others of her time had to learn.

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Anna Akhmatova is considered a major twentieth century Russian poet, author of such recognized works of literature as Requiem and Poem Without a Hero. She was one of few Russian poets of that time who survived Stalin’s Terror, though both of her husbands, and her only son were persecuted.

Katie Farris is the author of BOYSGIRLS (Marick Press) and her fiction has appeared in various journals, including Hayden’s Ferry and Washington Squire. Her translations have appeared in TriQuarterly and Many Mountains Moving. She teaches at San Diego State University.

Ilya Kaminsky is the author of Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press). He is also the editor of Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (Harper Collins).

 

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Announcing the 2017 Poetry Prize Winner!

We are excited to announce that the winner of the 2017 Poetry Prize is Kristen Steenbeeke for her poem “Apocalypse Dream Again.” Many thanks to everyone who submitted their work and made this year’s prize possible. “Apocalypse Dream Again” will appear in our Winter 2017 issue.

2017 Poetry Prize Winner:

“Apocalypse Dream Again” by Kristen Steenbeeke

Ross Gay says about the winning piece: “What a strange, unpredictable, veering, gale-tossed, silly, grave, many-registered, yearning, rackety poem this is.  And the phrase, “the sadness of a moonpie”!  I love that.  This is one of those poems that feels like a well-caffeinated friend who knocked on the door having picked some flowers for you on the way. “

Finalists

“Stand-In for a Ghost at a Séance” by Jessica Hincapie

“kindness” by Marlin M. Jenkins

“Offering to Azazel” by Alisha Kaplan

“A Mouth with Nothing to Say” by Peter LaBerge

“Diagram of the Human Ear” by Matthew Minicucci

“Inheritance” by Kirk Schlueter

“How to Marry the Land” by Nicole Stockburger

“The Funeral” by Jessica Lynn Suchon

“A family recipe that cannot be followed written down” by Tianru Wang

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Online Feature: “Four Proofs” by Richard Siken

Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, 1905-1906

When she saw herself, finished, she said, It doesn’t look like
me. Picasso said, It will. Perhaps it will look like her
because it is the document and will remain, while she is
just a person who will fade. Now, when we think of her,
we think of this painting. Picasso was planning ahead.
The painting is evidence but not proof. There’s no proof
that she looked like that, even though we have
the document. She existed enough to be painted. She could
have been an idea, but that’s another kind of existing.
The hand is a tool. The brush is a tool. The paint as well.
There is no machine here, but the work gets done.
A hammer is a tool when banging its head but a lever
when pulling up nails. A lever is a machine, has a fulcrum
which can be moved to change the ratio of something
or other, effort for distance. There is a fulcrum in
the mind that can be moved as well. I do not know what
else to say about this.

Raphael, Saint George and the Dragon, 1504-06

It’s hard to talk about what you believe while you are
believing it. Fervor reduces thought to shorthand and
all we get is an icon. Give a man a weapon and you
have a warrior. Put him on a horse and you have
a hero. The weapon is a tool. The horse is a metaphor.
Raphael painted this twice—white horse facing east
against the greens, white horse facing west against the
yellows. The maiden flees or prays, depending. A basic
dragon, the kind you’d expect from the Renaissance.
Evidence of evil but not proof. There’s a companion piece
as well:  Saint Michael. Paint angels, it’s easier:
you don’t need the horse. Michael stands on Satan’s
throat, vanquishing, while everything brown burns red.
All these things happened. Allegedly. When you paint
an evil thing, do you invoke it or take away its power?
This has nothing to do with faith but is still a good
question. Raphael was trying to say something
about spirituality. This could be the definition of painting.
The best part of spirituality is reverence. There are other
parts. Some people like to hear the sound of their own
voice. If you don’t believe in the world it would be
stupid to paint it. If you don’t believe in God, who
are you talking to?

Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, 1609-1610

Wanted for murder, a price on his head, Caravaggio
does what he always does—he tries to paint his
way out of it. This bad boy—whose moodiness came to be
called the Baroque, this thug whose soul
was as big as Rome and full of anvils—paints his own
face on Goliath’s severed head and offers himself
up as villain, captured, to escape the hammers of the law.
Allegory, yes. A truth as well. But truth doesn’t count
in law, only proof. He took the gods and made them
human. His Bacchus was a worn-out drunk. An animal
likely to sleep in a pool of its own sick. He raised
the status of the still life, made subjects out of objects,
turned nature into drama—the bloom on the grapes,
the bloom on the boys, leaves as important as
nudes. Exaggerated light, pure theater. Evidence
of a mind he delights in. Evicted from Rome, he wants
back in. They want his head, and he’s prepared to
give it to them. He paints David in yellow pants while
the pope’s nephew arranges his pardon. July 1610—
Caravaggio rolls up his paintings and sets sail
from Naples, heading north. They stop for supplies. No one’s
heard of the pardon. Jail. He pays his way out,
but the boat and his paintings have sailed on without
him. He follows. Malaria. He dies three days before
his pardon arrives and three days after Rembrandt’s
fourth birthday. His painted head arrives in Rome weeks
later. All painting is sent downstream, into the future.

René Magritte, La Clairvoyance, 1936

Odin had ravens. Zeus was a swan. Magritte saw an egg
and painted a bird. Part of heroism is being able to
see the future and still remain standing. If you don’t
believe in God or Fate you still must believe in narrative.
I am waiting for you, here in the trainstation, says the
trainstation. Philosophy is thinking. Prophesy is wishful
thinking. It’s easy to find evidence of the future but
harder to make people believe you. This is only obvious
if you have tried. Odin had proxies. Zeus had disguises.
Magritte saw the back of his head in a mirror. Not
hindsight, not really. A debriefing. He claimed that an
image was treacherous. He was right about that but
he might not have understood directionality. His paintings,
though mysterious, conceal nothing. A possible world
and its incomprehensibilities. A purposeful distortion.
Dreaming in the service of. True in the sense of carpentry.

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This poem originally appeared as “Three Proofs” in Indiana Review 37.1, Summer 2015, and as “Four Proofs” in the fourth printing of War of the Foxes (Copper Canyon Press). 

Emily Corwin (Poetry Editor):  In this sequence of epistolary poems, Richard Siken pushes me gently into the textures, the layers here—both the sensual and the philosophical embedded in these art objects. In each section, I gather information about the context, the associations, the physicality of the art—each piece like a lesson, an opening outward for the reader. Gorgeous and thoughtful, I always look forward to reading Siken’s work.

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Richard Siken is the author of Crush (Yale University Press) and War of the Foxes (Copper Canyon Press).