Wilmot Here, Collect for Stella by Christian Anton Gerard

Wilmot CoverChristian Anton Gerard’s first poetry collection, Wilmot Here, Collect for Stella (CW Books 2014), is a dark and tender sequence of memories of a man whose feet of clay keep him grounded, even as he dreams of being better than he is:

My genes are four percent Neanderthal.

He has fallen in love with Stella, and the story of their lifetime together draws from their own ancestries and the strangely hard and poignant details of their own era, the way the cover image of thistles in winter is so beautiful.

Wilmot Here, Collect for Stella; or
Remember that Chicago Symphony?

I dressed to the height of human being. My suit,

Remember? Silk cocooning what you laughed at
              when I danced for you before that shower?

Dressing for that night was dressing for you,
                for the bow string, an act of surrender, like a Sunday

morning leans into a Bloody Mary. Remember?
                I leaned into your crossed legs, fingers watching…

Christian Anton Gerard answers a few questions about the writing of his book.

What was the inspiration for this book?

At the end of the day, my Wilmot and Stella are me and all the reading I’ve done, they are their own and their story is both theirs and mine (but mostly theirs). I’m a huge believer in what Shelley called “the great conversation” and Eliot’s notion that poetry is conversation taking place across time and place, and which requires its practitioners to write with the “presentness of the past.”
I wanted to create a dialogic lover’s sequence in the tradition of the early modern sequences begun by Sir Philip Sidney, and I also wanted to honor the early modern tradition of poetry as fiction. I created characters and put them through innumerable drafts, but then I encountered John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester’s work, especially his letters to his mistress, mother, and friends. In his letters, Wilmot reveals a a tenderly emotional side not present in his poems. Because I was already working with myself and studying my own history of love, I thought it would be interesting to add the historical dimension of Sir Philip Sidney’s “Stella” from his sonnet sequence (the first English) Astrophil and Stella, alongside the Rochester I found in his letters.
But really, to answer your question, the reader need not know anything of the history that helped me create this book and its forms. It’s a love story. And I was, as I always seem to be, inspired by that most mysterious human emotion, love, and I wanted to explore it in poems.

When did you know this particular collection of poems was a book?

I knew this particular collection was a book in the second year of my MFA at Old Dominion University. Then, though, the characters were Peggy and Jackson Bellhorn. I didn’t know them as well as I could or should have. I needed to read more. I needed to understand poetry’s tradition and vital communal aspect to really make the collection cohere, which is what happened in the five years between the project’s beginning and its publication. I knew early on I was committed to poetry as a conversational medium, an act of communication, and that, I believe, is how I knew I would not stop exploring this poetic dimension until the project was complete.

How did you create the title?

The title was created out of the collection as a whole. I had to step back and figure out what was really happening. I had written so many of the ‘Wilmot Here, Collect For Stella; Or” poems and I realized that this was a story taking place in the present and the past. For me, Wilmot is alone from beginning to end and he is making collect call after collect call (yes, one must remember collect telephone calls for this aspect to make sense) to his gone wife who never answers. Wilmot’s attempts to reckon himself are too late, but in the act of trying there’s a desperation and desire that I found at love’s core in my thinking about how love operates in the past and present. Essentially, for me, the poems were made from Wilmot’s desire to be what he couldn’t have been, but wanted so desperately to be, which is why he made those collect calls and remembered all he remembered about his relationship with Stella. Thus, Wilmot Here, Collect for Stella felt like the emotional tone and actual impetus for the collection’s conception.

What was the most challenging aspect of putting the collection together?

The most challenging aspect of putting the collection together was resisting my own impulse to chronologically order the poems, while still honoring my love for poetry’s narrative tradition. The other most difficult aspect of the collection was the dialogue. Dialogue was (and still is for me) a difficult craft component to organically make and make work. This story needed, I felt, to be told as it worked in Wilmot’s mind, and the mind often resists chronology in its initial impulses to emotion. Chronology felt too rational for this man because love is so often irrational (as are the actions it prompts). Imagining Wilmot remember his conversations as he relayed them to his gone wife helped me understand how dialogue might happen in the mind and how it might be made and presented chronologically, or dare I say, anachronistically?

How did you choose your opening and closing poems?

I trusted my readers on this one. Wilmot and Stella have issues, as we all do, but I had to find a way to deploy those issues. While Wilmot does most of the collection’s talking, for me, this is really a story about Stella’s strength. As the story happens, Stella becomes, I hope, the strong woman who has lines in the sand that Wimot crossed, or was too unaware to even know existed. For me, Wilmot failed himself and in doing so failed Stella because he couldn’t see past himself. Stella, though, Stella did what she could. She was honest. She was open. She tried until there was no more trying and then she did for herself, which is a personal victory. For me, Stella knew that love wasn’t enough to make the relationship last. Work and compromise was essential, and Wilmot didn’t know how to do that work for himself, and thus, his marriage. My readers pointed out that opening the collection with Stella’s anxiety and honesty would foreground her desires and her disposition. I believe this was the best choice. My readers also noted that ending with Wilmot alone in the snow would help demonstrate his emotional change (despite it being too late for this particular relationship), while still focusing on Stella’s move for her own personal happiness and freedom.

The Lame God by M.B. McLatchey

indexIn The Lame God, M.B. McLatchey bears witness to the violent deaths of children. Speaking in the voices of grief-heavy parents, the poems offer up details of the lost and missing–the way a boy leaned against a wall, a fish hook in the foot’s soft flesh. The pages are interspersed with Virgil, adding an eternal echo to the grief.

We haved lived to see what never yet we feared.
–Virgil, Eclogue IX

 When my kids were growing up, there was a rash of suicides in the middle and high schools, and my son and daughter lost classmates and friends. It is a different sorrow, and terror, but maybe some of the notes are the same.

I admire McLatchey’s ability to hold such subjects and make an art that connects us, an electric current we can’t let go of. –Karen

M.B. McLatchey answers a few questions about the writing of The Lame God.

What was the inspiration for this book?

Many poets – Yeats, Milosz, Marilyn Hacker – have often commented that, as poets, we do not get to choose our topics. Our topics choose us. This was certainly the case for me with regard to The Lame God. I had composed a poem in response to a child abduction and murder, “The Rape of Chryssipus” – and later dedicated the poem to a particular young woman in Massachusetts who had been kidnapped and murdered, named Molly Bish. The poem won an award; I sent the award money to the Bish Foundation and I could not shake the story off. More poems on the subject of child abduction appeared. The crafting of the poems began to assume the shape of service work, and I found I had to “answer the call.”

When did you know this particular collection of poems was a book?

I teach ancient Greek & Roman Civilization at the college level. A lot of the poems, quite naturally, began to couch stories of contemporary abductions in stories of ancient abductions. I think when I began to see the poems speaking on this more universal level, I saw the timeless aspect of the subject and the timeless aspect of the grief and love that the poems explored. On a technical level, poems in a pile can begin to speak to one another as well. By this, I mean that it’s possible to detect a certain dialogue going on between poems… at which point they need to be allowed to speak as a volume. In assembling the poems, I attended to a desire to create a kind of variety in rhythm (a long poem, then a shorter poem) and I attended to an interest in achieving musical variety.

How did you create the title?

In ancient Greek mythology, the “lame god” is Hephaestus. Because he was born crippled, he was rejected by his mother. She tossed him into the sea to drown. He swam to shore, found his mother, and built her a cat-bird seat. When she sat in this seat, his mother fell into the sea (presumably, to drown). Hephaestus was congratulated by the other gods for his cleverness and welcomed into Olympus to live the rest of his life as one of the immortals.

It’s a bizarre story, but its message is one found in much of Greek mythology: Namely, that the gods have their own problems. This means that, generally speaking, it is up to us humans to face our tragedies and our hardships on our own. We are never alone though… because in the end, the gods help those who help themselves. In brief, the book examines the stunning capacity of human beings to grow stronger – rather than weaker – through hardships.

What was the most challenging aspect of putting the collection together?

In the Preface to this collection, I refer to the poems as “well poems” because of the spiritual and psychological descent into a subterranean world that I had to make in order to craft these poems. My goal was to give a voice to the grief that parents, who face the loss of a child, simply cannot voice. As the mother of two healthy boys, I found myself bringing my own children to a kind of sacrificial altar in order to get as close as possible to the sacrifice that I was exploring. This was an extremely unsettling experience, but necessary for my fidelity to the parents’ experiences and to the children in the poems. It was also necessary for the authenticity of the poems.

In terms of craft, I choose to write in forms more often than not. This technical choice actually helped me to stay with this difficult subject: When the words were too hard to utter, I could focus more on achieving a rhyme or a meter. My experience with writing in forms is that forms actually force us to transcend the literal, so that we are forced to respond to the subject on a different level of consciousness. I tend to think that this other level of consciousness generates more genuine poems.

How did you choose your opening and closing poems?

The opening poem, “1-800-THE-LOST” begins the story of the book in a sense. This poem chronicles the parent’s first engagement with the “outside” world … 1-800-THE-LOST is the phone number for the National Center for Abducted & Exploited Children.

The last poem in the book, “Against Elegies,” marks a resolve of sorts: the parent’s recognition that this grief will never be accurately articulated or healed. This last poem turns to the child herself and asks, “What if we let you sing first?”

 

I’m Here to Learn to Dream in Your Language by H.L. Hix

here-to-learnH.L. Hix’s new book I’m Here to Dream in Your Language (Etruscan Press 2015) pulses with dream-like thoughts and fragments, erotic impulse and word sequences that scrape the edge of meaning. This new collection, in Hix’s long and brilliant career, engages other contemporary poets in a conversation of inquiry.

Here is an interview with H.L. Hix, “Checking One Belief Against Another,” published in AGNI.

 

H.L. Hix answers a few questions for us about the writing of his book.

Thank you to the Kickstand Poetry members for having a look at my book and responding to it with your own words.

What was the inspiration for this book?

The most accurate answer is probably to say that there were five inspirations, since each section took shape on its own. So for example, the first section was inspired by a marvelous journal called Likestarlings. They paired me with a fantastic poet named Jane Yeh, and the “conversation” with her is what created the poems. That conversation exists at the journal: http://www.likestarlings.com/poems/jane-yeh-hl-hix/

Or again, the next section was inspired by a couple of colleagues of mine at the low-residency MFA at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Walter Cummins and Thomas E. Kennedy. They invited a number of writers in all genres to respond to a photograph, and edited an anthology of the responses. You can see the photograph on the cover of the book, which by the way is very instructive for writers, as a demonstration of how evocative a source image can be, the quantity and range of work it can incite: http://www.servinghousebooks.com/redhair.html.

Those sections, like each section in the book, are typical of my process in at least one sense: I very seldom just sit facing a blank page. I’m almost always working from something, against something, with something: “answering” some prior piece of language with new language.

When did you know this particular collection of poems was a book?

I had to wait until the “scheme” showed itself. Each of the sections was composed separately, and each “achieved its integrity” — seemed to me to be complete and whole — on its own. I didn’t write any of the sections with the intention of its being connected to the others. The book took shape only when I saw the unifying principle of “dream + l-word”: that each section could be understood as thinking through how the condition of dreaming affects, or might affect, some other way of organizing experience. What words would the dictionary have in it if it existed in the world of dreams instead of the world of waking life, and what would the definitions of those words be? And so on.

How did you choose your opening and closing poems?

Of course I did the whole “shuffling” routine as I was assembling the book: I made a version with all the possible orders of sections. Some were easy to eliminate. For example, none of the arrangements in which “Dream Lexicon” came first seemed viable to me: that section seemed like it would work only after some trust had been established with the reader. If the reader were dumped straight into “Dream Lexicon,” he/she would just think I was a kook!

The opening and closing poems were big factors in settling on the final order of the sections. The first poem of the first section seemed to me to welcome the reader in. The “story” is one we’ve all experienced: the fleeting encounter that provokes “real” feelings but takes place in some state of exception from “real” life. It seemed like a way to suggest quickly and legibly one version of the quality of dreaming that infuses the whole book.

The last poem also has a transparent relationship to the unifying theme of dreaming, since its very last word is “dreams.” If the first poem seemed like a way to welcome the reader into the book’s dream world, the last poem seemed like a way to usher the reader back out of the book’s dream world into her/his own dream world.

Even though it took a little experimentation with various possible arrangements to figure out which poems should be the opening and closing poems, once I’d “found” these, they seemed inevitable.

 

 

The Porcupine of Mind by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer

9781937968007.smallKaterina Stoykova-Klemer is one of the hardest working poets I know. She runs a small press, translates poetry from her native Bulgarian, writes poems in both English and Bulgarian, and in her spare time, recently wrote for and starred in an independent film.

I love this book for the way it objectifies language, for its dark and fearless humor, and also tenderness. Katerina is a master of the line break and the surprise, deftly and noiselessly switching frames. Her apostrophes to words, sprinkled throughout the book, are clever.

“I enjoy your company,
smiled Host.
I can’t imagine life
without you, admitted Parasite.”

You may enjoy an interview with Katerina, posted here, and you are sure to appreciate this collection of poems.

Katerina Stoykova-Klemer answers a few questions about the making of her book.

  • What was the inspiration for this book?
  • When did you know this particular collection of poems was a book?
  • How did you create the title?
  • What was the most challenging aspect of putting the collection together?
  • How did you choose your opening and closing poems?

I had written two series of poems. One – about kisses, and another – about conversations words of the English language have with one another. I wanted the “kiss poems” to tell a story, while the “conversation poems” to provide commentary. Of course I had other poems that wanted to join in, and the book kind of naturally fell into place.

I first published a version of The Porcupine of Mind in Bulgaria, in Bulgarian, under a different title. This was Indivisible Number, and it came out in 2011, a year before The Porcupine of Mind was out.  I guess that’s when I knew I had a book. Then I had to make the book in English, as well, so that it would appeal to the English-language reader.  I have to say, the two books are about 70% the same, and it took me a year to “port” the content from one culture to another.

I always try to come up with many titles – at least ten different ones before I commit to one. The Porcupine of Mind just felt like a great brief description of the content. A little abstract, maybe needing a bit of a leap of the reader’s imagination, memorable metaphor, and last but not least – it had an animal in it, sort of a guardian totem for the book. That was my process.

The most challenging aspect was that I was actually re-doing another book, the Bulgarian-only Неделимо число (Indivisible Number), so I had to start thinking about the same material in a new way. It took many attempts, and willingness to start over.

The first poem serves as a teaser, an opening for the love story that will follow. The last poem is more of a statement of a state of being, a place that the speaker has reached after traveling and living through the events described in the other poems. It just felt right to choose these for first and last poems.

In the Event of Full Disclosure by Cynthia Atkins

index Each poem in this collection is a tough customer; that is, language, line breaks and metaphors that pull no punches. Check out these lines from “Foundary”:

At the factory of lullabies,
fonts and DNA, a birthday book
was forged–fairy dust and pulp–
cherry perfume, loitering in spines
after curfew.

I love the double meanings of “forged” and “spines,” and the way the reader can’t settle in to the cuteness of lullabies and fairy dust, because words like “pulp,” “loitering” and “curfew” are standing around smoking stolen Camels. This is a very finely wrought collection and I loved it from beginning to end. A new poet to me, Cynthia Atkins can count me as a big fan. –Karen

Why God is a Woman by Nin Andrews

whygodisawoman_bookstoresmaller

Why God is a Woman is about an imagined island where conventional gender roles are flipped, making them transparent and obviously counter-productive for both women and men. But it’s also rich with imagination and so compelling a place, it invokes a longing to visit. When Nin and I read recently in Erie, someone asked her after the reading, “Where is this island???” –Karen

Nin Andrews answers a few questions about the making of her book.

What was the inspiration for this book?

I’ve always wondered what it would be like if the gender roles were reversed for just a day, a week, a month. Would we then come to understand the true meaning of the term, second sex? Would men understand women’s circumstances better, and vice versa?

In Why God Is a Woman, I tried to create a world where that the gender roles are completely reversed, and where all the myths and all the logic: the education, the media, and the institutional structures support the dominance of women. I didn’t want the book to be simply a political diatribe. Rather I wanted it to be a magical story, or collection of stories and prose poems about another world that would dwell somewhere between the fantastic and the familiar.

When did you know this particular collection of poems was a book?

I didn’t. I never know when a book is a book. I just write and write until, like Zeno’s arrow, I think I must be getting close to my destination, close to creating something resembling a book. Sometimes I think I have never finished a book.

I remember with my first, The Book of Orgasms, it was my editor who said I was finished. But there are so many more orgasms out there, I complained. He said I had enough for one book. I didn’t believe him. Of course I didn’t.

And with subjects like God, women, gender issues, and why, there is so much more to say.   All such infinite and interesting ideas. Any why question inspire more and more answers because there is no why really. Which is why I love the question why. My mind, given the chance, will just keep answering the question. Inventing, playing, composing. And God, really? Who can stop writing about God if she begins?

I do wish there were a way to add to a book the year after publication. To ice it like a cake after it has cooled.

How did you create the title?

I love titles. I love making them up. The title, Why God Is a Woman, has been in my head, waiting to be used for some time. I think that if there is a God, She is a woman. The feminine imagery in religion, the Madonna, for example, has always moved me. Inspired me.

One day, when I began writing the poems for the book, I imagined a man who had always been confiding in a woman he no longer sees. She lives in his mind as the one who listens to him, who cares for him, who accepts him as he is. She is his love, his reason to live, his deepest longing. She is, I thought, his god.

 

 

Blue Heron by Elizabeth Robinson

elizabeth robinson blue heronIn Blue Heron, Elizabeth Robinson constructs poetry and white space, enough to enter into. The emptiness slows the poem and creates a paradoxical fullness. The poems situate the speaker in the natural world, closely observing and also identifying with other sentient beings. Lynx: “The forefeet predict the hind//as though//a paw print were a target.” Robinson takes up the voice of both predator and prey.

“Poetics measure the difference between a socket and a fringe,” she writes.

Many poems in this collection address a moment of collision: misjudgment; death and decomposition, an angry man at a table; a daughter on the pavement. Lynx and heron. Language and blood. More than the observation of nature, our animal lives hunt and are hunted. Much is at stake.

I am taken with the spare language and the startling power at work. Robinson’s singular voice is empathic and unflinching. –Karen

Thank you to Elizabeth Robinson for answering a few questions about the making of her book.

What was the inspiration for this book? When did you know this particular collection of poems was a book?

I am not sure if there was an inspiration for the book in a conventional sense. After my father died, I was in a period of serious grief. He was my great friend. So a lot of the writing I did in the following two years was related to his legacy to me in one way or another. In some inexplicable way, after his death I began to insistently remember an encounter with a great blue heron at the Marin Headlands in the Bay Area. I was living in Berkeley and going on a hike at the Headlands, and rounded a corner to find myself face to face with the great beautiful and ungainly bird. We just stood and looked at each other.

In the months after my father’s death, this memory arose again and again, and the heron became somehow a totem or stand-in for my father. I can’t really explain it rationally, but poetry has no commitment to rationality. So the long sequence “Blue Heron” slowly took shape. I think it is a bit untidy, but that also seems true to the emotional circumstance.

Then, in the year or two that followed, I found that I was writing poems that were responsive to the environment. I was invited to contribute to a project in which writers wrote poems about animals in the Rocky Mountains where I live. I had a short term residency at a sculpture garden. After all the visitors left, I could wander around acres of sculpture alone and watch the wildlife that crossed through the property. But the other thing that shaped the making of this book was an increasing interest I felt in using the space of the page to mark the page as a visually and rhythmically expressive entity. So it began to feel right to make a manuscript of poems that fit together both thematically and formally.

How did you create the title?

I have a terrible time with titles. I think I chose this title for two reasons. Firstly, it is the title of the anchoring poem, so it seemed right to title the book around it. There is also a book by a dear friend of mine, a poet named Jack Collom, and he has a very different collection of poems called Blue Heron, and I saw this title as a bit of a tribute to him. Finally, the title poem is an elegy, and many of the poems have some element of elegy to them, so I liked the idea of getting “blue” as an emotional tone into the title.

How did you choose your opening and closing poems?

I actually had a slightly different order, but got some feedback on ordering from my friend (and wonderful poet) Chana Bloch. I think I had originally started with “Blue Heron”—a kind of plunge-right-in mentality. That’s a bit risky, though, as it asks for a kind of immediate engagement from the reader. I had always intended to end the collection with “On Monsters” because I saw that as a turn to a more affirmative horizon. It is still set in roughly the same landscape as “Blue Heron,” but it is really a love poem, and I liked ending with that landscape renewed and redeemed.