Posts Categorized: Poetry

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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.

*

2011 redux

I stirred five bullets
into your burned porridge,
stole the money you sewed
into the mattress and took a bus south
of my sorrow, approaching sand,
approaching steel. I couldn’t stay
another weekend, peeling roaches
from their graves. Out on the highway
to Half Moon Bay, I saw a power
line detonate a flock of geese.
Another lonely city emerges
from their sooty feathers,
and across the magnetic fields,
taxonomy of aurochs run west
of their extinction. Should I be
embarrassed for trying to survive?
I turn inside out between
motel sheets, prisoner
of altitude. A child mistakes
a strand of hair for lightning
and the signals of far satellites
question your penance. I won’t go to
bed hungry. I wait for your footsteps,
slicing an apple with a borrowed knife.

*

This poem originally appeared in Indiana Review 34.2, Winter 2012.

Anni Liu (Poetry Editor): This poem offers two retellings of the Chinese opera and film of the same title–both based on the real stories of multiple women. In them, a young women named Xi’er is captured by her father’s landlord and killer and forced to become a servant and concubine to him. She escapes and lives in the mountains, fighting off wolves and taking food from the temple offerings. Although the opera and film were propaganda for the Communist Party, Sally Wen Mao’s rendering focuses on how Xi’er rejects all society for a defiant solitude. In the contemporary version, near California’s Half Moon Bay, men are still violent and greedy, and the speaker evades both him and the sorrow he inflicts. This is a poem for the wild strength in us.

A more recent prose piece by Mao can be found here; weaving the story of a women transformed into a fox outwitting her hunters and the Korean Empress Myeongseong who fought Japanese colonialism, it is a perfect companion to this poem.

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Sally Wen Mao is the author of Oculus (Graywolf Press, 2019) and Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014). The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, she was a 2016-2017 Cullman Center fellow at the New York Public Library and the 2017-2018 Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington.

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…

*

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.

*

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).

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Hoosier Journal Spotlight: Booth and “How to Make a Beginning” by Aubrey Ryan

This spring, Indiana Review conducted interviews with other Indiana journals. We were driven by a few questions:  What does it mean to be a Midwestern or Hoosier journal? What does it mean to be a member of a literary community? What are our Hoosier neighbors up to? What do they seek for their publications?

Robert Stapleton, Founder and Editor of Booth, which is published out of Butler University in Indianapolis, IN, was kind enough to answer a few questions for our final installment for the spring semester. We talked about Booth‘s namesake, the literary community in Butler University and Indianapolis, and enduring advice from William Faulkner. Be sure to check out a gorgeous poem, “How to Make a Beginning” by Aubrey Ryan, at the end!

Read more…