Friday, August 30, 2019

August News

Hello, friends! It’s hard to believe summer’s already coming to an end! I hope your summer was as restful or adventurous as you needed it to be and you’re ready for autumn. After two years in Florida where they don’t have autumn, I can’t wait for bright leaves, sweaters, and hot cocoa.

Here is my writerly news for August:

The first and biggest is that I have been nominated by TWO magazines for the Best of the Net! “The Water Station” was nominated by Editor Allison Blevins at The Harbor Review,

and “Without” was nominated by Editor Katie Manning and the rest of the team at Whale Road Review.

It’s an incredible honor just to be nominated. My deepest thanks to these editors for believing in my work, and congratulations to my fellow nominees!

On a bittersweet note, the anniversary edition of Voice of Eve magazine came out this month—unfortunately, it will be the last edition. My poem “Hirsute Woman,” was nominated by readers and selected by a panel of judges to be included in their farewell. My heartfelt thanks to the editors for being so wonderfully supportive of women writers. Read it at Issuu here.

On the usual publication front, I am pleased to be a part of the inaugural issue of Black Coffee Review, which includes my poem, "Nameless." Many thanks to editor Dave Taylor for launching this beautiful new literary site.

Strange Fruit: Poems on the Death Penalty is now available on Amazon as a paperback. An ebook is forthcoming. This new anthology includes my poems, "The Heart Goes Last" and "In Event of Moon Disaster." This is a subject I care deeply about. I encourage anyone interested in justice to give it a read. Thank you to editor Sarah Zale for compiling this timely collection.

My poem, “Empire of the Fireflies,” appeared on Silver Pinion. My thanks to editor D.C. Wojciech for sharing my work.

“Chasing Grace” appeared in the latest issue of Panoply. Thank you to editors Andrea, Jeff and Ryn.

Some new reviews have come in on my poetry books. A new 5-star review on Requiem for a Robot Dog on Amazon called it “intelligent and thought-provoking.”

A 5-star review on West Side Girl & Other Poems on Goodreads said, “The whole book is a studio of canvases showing all the sides of life.”

Thank you to these kind readers for taking the time to leave feedback.

And finally, I am thrilled to share that I will be reading my poetry in Chicago next month! I have been invited to the Woman Made Gallery's Consumerism and the Stuff of Consumption event on September 22 at 2 p.m. If you’re in the Chicago area, I hope you stop by!

Thank you for reading! Hope you have a great Labor Day weekend!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

July News

Hello, friends. I hope you’re having a great summer! I have some very exciting news to share!

My poetry chapbook, High Water Lines, has been selected for the Prolific Press International Chapbook series! High Water Lines is a collection of poems about poverty and the working poor. I don’t have a release date yet, but I will be sure to update regularly on my social media sites. (Look! Their symbol is a bunny! You O4S fans out there will know why this makes me ridiculously happy.)

I have also received notification that my poem, "Hirsute Woman," was selected by readers and a panel of judges to be included in the Anniversary Edition of Voice of Eve Magazine. Huge, huge thanks to editor Richard Holleman for leading this amazing magazine for women's voices.

Also, Duane Vorhees, who has been so gracious as to regularly give my work a home, interviewed me for Duane’s New PoeTree Blog.

Here are my latest publications:

The Mojave River Review. My poems "Kitten Love" and "Casino Christmas" can be found on page 175.

Ponder Savant’s Art of Depression series. Many thanks to editor Mia Savant for including my poem, “Paper Wasps.”

The Wild Word’s Long Summer Nights issue. I am always thrilled to add to my list of international publications, and The Wild Word is based in Berlin! Thank you to editor Kusi Okamura for including my poems, “Return,” “Jesus Flicks,” and “Girl with a Cigarette.” Ich bin ein Berliner!

Reviews on Requiem for a Robot Dog (Cajun Mutt Press) are starting to come in on Amazon! The first was five stars:

"Requiem for a Robot Dog is an excellent collection of poems, thought-provoking and gorgeously written. Curl up and ponder life with this book from the big terrors to the little miracles. Let Lauren’s words fill your mind and your heart with their joys and sorrows. You won’t regret it."

Another five-star review called it, "Engaging, thought-provoking work. Bravo!" 

Requiem also got a mention in Literary Mama’s editor’s recommendations. Allison Blevins, poet, editor of The Harbor Review, and editorial assistant at Literary Mama, wrote:

"I left this book with more questions about myself and my world than when I entered. Requiem for a Robot Dog is truly a liminal space holding up a mirror to our culture and beliefs and shared experiences."

Many thanks to these kind readers for their feedback!

For you O4S fans out there, I am making slow but steady progress on the final book. I just hit the 79,000-word mark. I'm still hoping to have a draft done by the end of the year. I have some O4S trivia and other bonus material planned for the coming months.

Thank you, friends, for stopping by! I am so grateful for your support and your readership.

Friday, June 28, 2019

June News

Hello, friends! I hope your summer is going well. I’m pleased to share my June author news with you.

First up, my seasonally-appropriate poem, “A Feast for Mosquitoes,” appeared on Duane’s PoeTree Blog. All poetry listed on Duane’s PoeTree Blog will still be available for viewing, but going forward, he has moved to Duane’s New PoeTree at:

Many thanks to Duane for his continued support of my work.

The inaugural edition of Total Eclipse also came out to read this month, and is available to read online. My poems, "Canada Geese" and "The Riddle of the Bees" on page 32. I’m so po proud to be included next to so many fine poets. Big thanks to editor Mark Sepe for making this happen!

I was interviewed by fellow poet Thomas Scott Outlar on his Blog Talk Radio show, Songs of Selah. A recording of the interview is available, if you want to have a listen. We discussed my new poetry book, Requiem for a Robot Dog (Cajun Mutt Press), and I read some pieces from it. In the second part of the show, poets call in and share their work, and Duane Vorhees read from his collection, Love’s Autobiography (which I reviewed here).

If you're a poet or author in need of exposure, I strongly encourage you to check out the show. The open mic segment is a great opportunity to share your work with the world. 

And finally, poet Christine Tabaka gave The Ice Dragon a five-star review. Thank you so much, my friend! I am always thrilled and humbled when someone enjoys my work. (Like most authors, I am always in need of reviews of my work. If you would be interested in a review copy, please let me know, and I’ll hook you up.)

Thank you, as always, for reading! I look forward to seeing what July will bring. 

Friday, May 31, 2019

May News

Hello, friends! This has been another busy and rewarding month.

First, I am still over the moon about the release of my new poetry collection, REQUIEM FOR A ROBOT DOG, has been released through Cajun Mutt Press. If you'd like an autographed copy, or if you would be interested in doing a review, please let me know!

In other poetry news, my work has appeared in the following publications:

Otherwise Engaged Northern New Mexico Literary & Arts Journal included three of my poems, "Christmas Eve," "New Year's Eve Talamada," and "Intimacy." Thank you to editor Marzia Dessi for putting together this lovely journal. Copies are availble for purchase on Amazon.

The inaugural edition of The Duck Lake Journal had my poems, "Sandpipers" and "The Strawberry Festival." Copies are available for purchase here.

Alien Buddha Zine #7 is now live. I encouarge everyone to check this one out -- its theme is on the American prison system and includes work from inmates. My poem, "Pardon," was inspired by some of my volunteer work with inmates at a federal correctional institution. The editor, Red Focks, was also kind enough to write a review of my work, West Side Girl & Other Poems. He called it "contemporary poet with a classical touch... well-written and self-aware. I recommend this chapbook to any fan of poetry." Thanks, Red!

I also received the following new review on The Order of the Four Sons, Book I:

"An unlikely, undertrained team of five unusual investigators are paired together in a storyline of The Mummy meets Mission Impossible with a deadly twist of possession, torture and morphing magical realms. Book One of The Order of the Four Sons does not fall short in action, suspense, or plenty of hilarious dialogue."

Thank you so much, Erika, for reading and leaving feedback!

On June 10, I will be doing an interview on Songs of Selah with host and fellow poet Thomas Scott Outlar. I hope you can tune in! I also plan to continue doing readings about town, writing reviews, and the usual odd blog post or two.

One final bit of news-- I just hit the 75,000-word mark with Going Forth by Day, the sixth and final installment of The Order of the Four Sons series. Which is to say, I'm about halfway there. Guys, it's been a long, tough journey. I am so pleased to say that I really think it's going to be finished thi syear. I appreciate each and every one of you who's been here for it.

Thank you for reading! Hope everyone's summer is off to a delightful start!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

New Release: Requiem for a Robot Dog

It's been six years since I released West Side Girl & Other Poems into the wilds of the book industry. Now, I'm so pleased to share that my new poetry collection, REQUIEM FOR A ROBOT DOG, is available on Amazon! Big thanks to James Dennis Casey IV at Cajun Mutt Press for putting this together.

This is the universe we inhabit: a universe that has produced both David Bowie and James Baldwin, Klingons, Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes, E.T., and Garbage Pail Kids. We coexist alongside goddesses, meteors, parolees, anorexics, acid attack victims, refugees, circuses, reservation casinos, fantastic beasts, and a dwindling water supply. In REQUIEM FOR A ROBOT DOG, Lauren Scharhag considers the existence of angels and aliens equally plausible. She explores the dawn of the third millennium with all its darkness and light, bringing both the mythical and the mundane under her lens. Technology is both our bane and our solace, the conduit for human connection and facilitator of further alienation. Sure, there’s poverty, disease, and the bees are all dying, but there is also love, loyalty, and compassion, even if it comes in the form of a robotic canine. So come trip the rift. Find God. Find hope. And say a prayer for the dearly departed.

Here is a sample poem from the collection:


I want to worship the quiet gods,
the ones who blush before they speak
and hesitate before they offer a compliment
because they’re only too aware
of how it will reveal
their uncommon depth of feeling.

I want to worship the tired gods,
the ones coming off a twelve-hour shift,
who can’t stand up on the bus and will go to bed
still wearing their uniform.

I want to worship the humble gods,
the ones who are enraptured by the tiny
and imperfect: a Muscovy duck’s raw wattles,
the pattern of brain coral, the dandelions,
the ones who think that facial features
are only enhanced by the presence
of a port-wine stain birthmark.

I want to worship the true gods,
givers of water and repose,
the ones who make sure the electric bill
is in before the late fee and stops dinner
from burning in the oven while you’re busy
giving the cat his medicine.

If you would be interested in receiving a review copy, let me know. I'd be happy to hook you up.

Cheers, everybody! Time to celebrate!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Poetry Review: The Mercy of Traffic by Wendy Taylor Carlisle

The Mercy of Traffic is a masterful poetic memoir. These poems are steeped in a sense of place-- Carlisle was born in Florida and now lives in the Arkansas Ozarks. The collection is threaded with a series of poems she refers to as “Ozark Sonnets” and a single “Arkansas Sonnet.” But these poems are also about transience in America. This makes the title apropos as so many of the poems are about driving around, especially along Southern highways: in addition to Carlisle’s current and former abodes, she writes of Texas and Tennessee. A few references pop up to California and New York. But Carlisle is unequivocally a product of the South. As someone who lived for two years on the Gulf Coast, and the rest of my time in Missouri, which shares the Ozarks with Arkansas, these poems really spoke to me.

In the Southern poems, Carlisle confronts the stereotypes of rural America: poverty, corn pone, kudzu, cotton fields. There are covered dishes, trailers, cheap furniture, broken things, broken people. But there is also the rural beauty, mountains and birds, coyotes and deer, sultry summers and polka-dot fabric, comfort food and cleansing rains. These poems establish a sense of community, for good or ill. At funerals, people bring covered dishes to express sympathy and solidarity. People join the military in an attempt to escape their hardscrabble childhoods. But in Carlisle’s poetry, none of these things feel like stereotypes. The poems are affectionate but clear-eyed. She is fully aware of the places’ flaws, but loves them anyway. “On an Island” is an anti-pastoral, about the beauty of horses, hemmed in by barbed wire, plagued with flies and horseshit. “Against Moving to the Mountains” is a stunner, a celebration of the Ozarks’ beauty, as well as an indictment against its worst tendencies: “Just keep going,” Carlisle warns.

“Sly” was the word that kept coming to mind as I read these poems. Carlisle eviscerates so gently! This is fitting, as the title of the book comes from a line in “The Argument,” a poem about a fox who survives on cunning, but cunning only takes you so far when there are cars to dodge. In “What I Missed,” Carlisle gives a sublime description of grackles: “shining as spoiled meat.” Perfection. So many lines like this, that balance on the knife’s edge between terrible and beautiful, terrible because they’re so cruelly accurate and beautiful for the same. Somehow, in that poetic alchemy, the words and imagery seem to flow so effortlessly, so economically. (Only one poem exceeds a page.)

These are poems about homecoming. I’ve always felt that home isn’t a place, but a concept, like enlightenment. It’s something that must be achieved. It’s a state of being, not necessarily a physical place. Sometimes, it’s a person. Carlisle writes of the places that have imprinted themselves upon her. I imagine she carries them with her, the white Florida sand, the Ozark granite, the West Coast sage. They become components of the self. I like how the places jumble together in this book. They are all America, but such different Americas. Home is also the thing we turn and return to, even if it’s only in our minds. The mind is a homing pigeon, retreating to the familiar. So too, does memory jumble. It’s something we return to. The book flits back and forth between childhood and adulthood.

Carlisle is honest about the dubious nature of memory. What we don’t remember, we invent. Like all good memoirs, this collection has the elements we crave to read about: bad relationships, death, hard luck, which, again ties into Southern life, where poverty and limited job options are the reality. “The Real Night” addresses childhood with images of skeletons and bones, as if to underscore the idea that life’s most enduring lessons are hard and stark. In “Juke,” Carlisle depicts a woman who is down on her luck, which feels so different from men being down on their luck—perhaps because desperate women so often turn to prostitution, or accept a domestic abuse situation if it means a roof over their head. Likewise, “Say Yes” hints at abuse with its haunting final line, “In our bedroom I learned to say yes as if I meant it.” The poem “Once Upon a Time” is framed by objects, ending on blood and milk, quintessentially feminine symbols.

Sexuality from a woman’s perspective is another big theme in these poems. Carlisle speaks of the blame and shame women experience. In “Things Burn,” she says, “Because my hair was a red cape/the street filled with bulls.” In “Greed. Lust. Envy.” she offers a meditation on sin and absolution. She describes trying to look up her step-dad’s towel after he emerges from the shower. There are poems about bras and first kisses, modern takes on fairy tales such as “The Princess and the Frog” and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” Physiological terms pop up, like in the poem “Systole,” which skillfully employs the term to suggest the flex of muscles.

I can scarcely pick a favorite among these poems. As I go back over my reading notes, I keep finding titles with a star next to them, which means I loved them. I basically loved all of them, from start to finish. Usually, if a collection has a single poem that knocks my socks off, I’m happy. To find a collection where every poem feels like it’s speaking directly to you is a rare pleasure, one that I truly hope others get to experience for themselves.  

The Mercy of Traffic (Unlikely Books) is available for purchase on Amazon.  

Sunday, April 28, 2019

April News

Hello, friends! I have big news to share with you this month! 

Six years after West Side Girl & Other Poems, I am pleased to announce I will be publishing a new poetry collection with Cajun Mutt PressThe collection is called Requiem for a Robot Dog. (The title poem appeared last year in trampset.) We are shooting for a May release. I will keep you all posted on its progress! It's so very exciting!

I am also thrilled to share that author Jennifer Perkins reviewed my children’s book, The Ice Dragon, on her blog, Author Esquire. She gave it a Mithril armor rating! (That’s five out of five stars, for any non-geeks reading this blog.)

Perkins wrote, “The Ice Dragon is wonderfully imaginative. It reminds me of the books I loved to read as a child. It has a touch of whimsey which reminded me what it was like, as a child, to believe in magic. The prose is elegant, while the voice of the characters is clear and emotional. Further, I think the book would appeal to children of all ages and backgrounds.”

Read the full review here.

Now, for my usual news—I had ten pieces appear in various publications this month:

"Goddess Poem," is up on La Scrittrice Magazine. Poetry Editor Jessica Drake-Thomas said, "I love how you’ve woven so many different Goddess traditions into this piece. It’s so cohesive and well-crafted—as soon as I read it, I had to send you an acceptance.” Thank you, Jessica!

Poems “Chimera” and “Evacuation” appeared in the spring issue of Nixes Mate.

"Tiny Effigies," appeared on Duane's PoeTree blog.

“Wanted” is in the latest issue of The Literary Nest.

 My thanks to editor C. Derick Varn for publishing three of my poems, "Disembody," "D.," and "Ozone" in Former People magazine.

Louisiana Zombie Afternoon, Jen Zedd
Thank you to editor Jordan Trethaway for publishing my poem, “Girl Alone” in The Ekphrastic Review. I’d never written an ekphrastic poem before, but I loved the inspiration piece, Louisiana Zombie Afternoon by Jen Zedd.

Some of you may have read my review of Red Focks’ Dead Celebrities on this blog. It is also in the latest issue of Alien Buddha Zine. I highly recommend Focks’ weird, funny and poignant collection, available on Amazon.

Also, just ICYMI, I posted a new flash fiction piece here earlier this month, Newton’s Needle, in which the scientist ponders his experiments with light.

I got a little behind on my reading/reviewing this past month, but look for a review of the excellent The Mercy of Traffic, a poetry collection by Wendy Taylor Carlisle.

Thank you, as always, for reading! I look forward to seeing what May will bring.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Flash Fiction: Newton's Needle

Newton by William Blake

It doesn’t really hurt—not really. The trick is pushing past your own squeamishness, the instinct to flinch away.
I will admit, the idea came to me when I saw a group of boys playing at marbles on the road. In my youth, we used to play thus, crouched around our circles like old divinators at their casting sites. We had mostly dull clay pieces worn the same color as the soil. But one lad had a glass piece. How we coveted that perfect sphere-- perfect in our eyes, though now, as I recall, it had a faint greenish hue, its interior pocked with imperfections. I recall how the glass marble caught the light, how it winked in the sun as our taws struck it and rolled it out of the circle, a pale shadow moving inside of a larger, darker one along the ground. I was reminded, also, of the bubbles children blow out of pipes, floating and wavering, iridescent on the air where the light struck it. So many simple pleasures of youth: watching the afternoon sun filtering down through the branches of an elm, turning its rippled leaves transparent, like fingers stringing a harp. You see, color is not inherent to the thing. Color is the interaction between the light and the thing reflecting it. When the world goes dark, everything goes dark with it.
There is only the slightest discomfort as I probe around, searching for the best point of entry. Perhaps discomfort is too strong a word. There is pressure, certainly. But no worse than if I was rubbing at my eye with my fist—which, as I have found, will also produce colored circles in the vision.
I have looked and looked at the sun, considering the light itself. It turns out that this was good practice as I trained myself not to blink so often. After a particularly long stretch of sun-gazing, I needed several days in a darkened room to recover. During that time, I had a searing headache. Anytime I shut my lids, I saw the most fantastic colors, as if they had been permanently imprinted on the eye itself, fiery wheels of red, orange, blue, a vision out of a prophet’s dream. These colors were most clear just after I had looked into the sun and gradually faded as my eyes went back to normal. I meditated on the colors and what they might mean. Is the pain I endure penance, well-earned for my innumerable sins? Or is it a sacrifice, the price one must pay for unlocking His mysteries? These thoughts were never far from my mind, even as I formulated my plans. Finally, when I was able to see again, I opened the windows back up and greeted the light once more. I procured the bodkin.
I make sure it has a nice, dull edge. It wouldn’t do to lay anything sharp alongside the optic organ, to scratch that sensitive, quivering plain. Despite my best efforts, my eye waters when the tip of the bodkin touches the moist flesh of the underlid. I move the bodkin carefully along the socket, undeterred even when it scrapes bone, shaping my eye this way and that with the point, peering up into a beam of light as I do so. The circles appear and disappear, just as before. As I do, I think again of my boyhood, kneeling beside the circle drawn in the dirt, aiming my taw for the glass marble. But I never won it. I never did. At length, I remove the bodkin from my eye with an unpleasant sucking sound.
There was light enough left for me to go out, past where lads were playing—some other game today. Leapfrog, by the look of it. In the market, there is a seller of trinkets who sold me two prisms made of Venetian glass—another child’s toy. The lens I already had in my possession.
Just pieces of glass. Baubles, really. To think that they could reveal so much. I will mount the three pieces, just so, to show how light reflects and refracts, filling the parlor with ribbons of color.
Light has form. It is a thing to be perceived and evaluated. It is a revelatory force. It brings warmth. It dispels dampness. It commands both the planted seed and the trees of the wood. Pagans built their altars to its avatars. It commands the life-bearing seasons.
 Miniscule corpuscles float on the air, beaming from lens to prism. The world is whiteness. Everything is a step in its scale, mounting its way from darkness to violet to red and back again, like a bruise.
Sometimes, to see things, we must suffer certain discomforts. The rain drives the boys from the lane, lest their playthings be lost, swallowed up by the muck. We must be blinded to see, we must kneel outside the circle to understand desire. And yet, to heal, sometimes we must retreat from the fires of fervor and illumination.
The colors merge to make whiteness again, pure in its unity. It is divine. All colors that flow from the Almighty ultimately flow back unto Him and His light. As do we.
When I am finished, satisfied with my experiment, I will close the shutters. I will add to my catalogue of sins: coveting another child’s toy in boyhood.

Friday, March 29, 2019

March News

Hello, my lovely friends. March has been a very busy and exciting month, with nine publications, radio shows, reviews, and poetry readings. I’m so pleased to share with you all the latest and greatest:

I usually make these round-ups chronological, but I am just so excited about this one, it’s going front and center: I am the featured poet in the latest issue of Loud Zoo, with five poems and the most thoughtful, in-depth interview I’ve ever had the good fortune to participate in, starting on page 39. The five poems are, “Garbage Pail Kids,” “Southpaw,” “Linda Martinez and Ed McMahon Say Hello from the Afterlife,” “No, I don’t have a foot fetish,” and “Grandma’s Fan.”

But that's not the coolest part. The coolest part is the amazing music composed by Tripp Kirby of The Electric Lungs to accompany the poems! They can be listened to on the magazine site, or go directly to Sound Cloud.

Special thanks to Tripp for the awesome collaboration! If you haven't listened to his music, I highly recommend Don't Be Ashamed of the Way You Were Made. I might be a little obsessed. Also, big thanks to editor Josh Smith for pulling this all together.

I had three poems appear in The Woven Tale Press, “Crystal River,” “Super Blue Blood Moon,” and “Buddhas on Death Row.” They are on pages 9-10 of the digital copy. The print version is available here. “Buddhas on Death Row” was also accepted for their monthly spotlight. Many thanks to their team for continuing to support my work.

For those who don’t know, “Buddhas on Death Row” was inspired by my pen pal, Moyo, who has been on death row in Texas for 18 years. While incarcerated, he has become a Buddhist and an artist. His work has been displayed in various galleries in the US, Finland, and the UK. He is currently working with at-risk youth, and taking classes to become an educator. Learn more about his art at

My poems, “Therapy” and “The List” appeared in Alien Buddha Press.

“Bug Out” and “Low” appeared in Anti-Heroin Chic.

I had two short stories in Ariel Chart Magazine, “Astronomical Events” and “The Little Holly Market.” Editor Mark Antony Rossi messaged me to say, “Your fiction pieces are ranked 2 & 3 this month in reads. That’s not the norm. Usually poetry beats fiction. Thanks for being so damn good.” I want to give a shout-out here to Mark, who has published my work before. He also the force between the Strength to be Human podcast.

Moon Song,” “Faces,” and “The Nostalgia Project” were published on Stanzaic Stylings. This rounds out the series of six that were published on that site. Thanks so much to editor Joanne Olivieri, it's been fun! “The Nostalgia Project” also appeared this month on Duane’s PoeTree Blog.

And my last publication was in the TOUCH issue of memoryhouse, two poems: "Brain Ghosts" and "Resonance."

Voice of Eve Magazine, which had previously published my poetry, gave West Side Girl & Other Poems a five-star review.

I can also be heard on Songs of Selah, an online radio show. I called in during the open mic portion in the second hour of the March 12 episode and had a fun conversation with host Scott Thomas Outlar and featured poet, Duane Vorhees. I read my poems, “Kitten Love” and “New Year’s Eve Talamada.”

I was at the Last Monday poetry reading at the Penn Valley Quaker Center. It’s a monthly open mic that’s been running for almost thirty years, and one of my favorite groups. If you’re in KC sometime, I hope you stop in for a listen!

And finally, ICYMI, I posted three reviews on my blog this month, (Letters to Joan, Dead Celebrities, Ghost Train), as well as a micro-essay (Supernatural). If you haven’t read those already, I hope you do.

My blog schedule is always a moving target, but what I have planned for the near future are: more poetry reviews, another micro-essay and maybe some O4S-related stuff.

Thank you, as always, for your readership!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Poetry Review: Letters to Joan by Allison Blevins

I didn’t know who Joan Mitchell was. I am an art enthusiast. I live in a cool art city. I live within walking distance of two museums and an art institute. I’ve taken my share of art history classes.  

Never heard of her.  

So, first and foremost, I want to thank Allison Blevins for introducing me to Mitchell’s work through her lovely chapbook, Letters to Joan. I blame the usual patriarchal bullshit for failing to give Mitchell the attention she deserves, despite being a contemporary of Pollock, Rothko, and de Kooning, and, from what I’ve seen of her, I like her better than those dudes. Mitchell passed away in 1992, after a long, distinguished career. She spent most of her life in Paris, but she was originally a Midwesterner, like Blevins. Mitchell’s work is frequently described as violent, physical, athletic—her brushstrokes, the moods she was trying to evoke; a gallery owner remarked, “She approached painting almost like a competitive sport.”  

I found all this out after the fact, so I actually read Letters to Joan twice, once without having viewed the art, then again after I had. I wasn’t able to view all of the paintings online, but enough to give me an idea of Mitchell’s style, to see what Blevins had seen. Without the art, I was still able to appreciate Blevins’ poems. But the poems were infinitely richer when paired with the visuals.  

In Letters to Joan, Blevins offers more than mere ekphrasis. She carries on a tradition of female interiority: quiet, meditative, dreamlike, deep. She offers poems that are keenly attuned to the body, which is fitting—not only for women, who I think inhabit our bodies in a way that men do not. But also because a book of poems inspired by Joan Mitchell should focus on physicality—for her ferocity, and because Mitchell fought so tenaciously against a series of debilitating illnesses: oral cancer, resulting in a dead jawbone; osteoarthritis; hip dysplasia; and then, ultimately, lung cancer. Women are more likely to suffer from chronic pain, from a variety of physical and mental health issues that don’t seem to affect men as much. Women are socialized to believe our bodies are all that matter, we who are charged with protecting our bodies from violation, and for having bodies that are capable of housing new life. Blevins offers poems that are sometimes self-recriminating, exploring themes about ambivalent motherhood and disappointment in our own mothers. Sometimes she attacks the sacred cow that is motherhood, referencing Susan Smith and such women who do the unthinkable.  

The book opens with mothers and children in, “Watching Dust Glow in the Window Light,” which describes the poet’s complicated feelings towards her daughter, and towards her own mother who left. She juxtaposes, “I want to keep you safe,” with “On days I wish you’d never been born.” Its images suggest helplessness: floating, shaken, caught, “caged-bird lips.” The idea of being caught in a snow globe that’s been shaken is a womblike image, a round ball of fluid, something small and self-sustaining, yet delicate and precious. The next poem, “Moored,” a word that implies being tethered, feels like a progression. It describes mothers worn “transparent as nightgowns,” the toll being a mother exacts on a person, bodily, mentally, spiritually. “The Color of Tearing” explores separation and separation anxiety, the distance between bodies in all relationships, and the inevitable demise that awaits, both in the relationship itself and for us, individually, as mortal beings.  

“How to Explain Fertility When a Friend Asks Casually” digs into bad mothers, “all the women and children dead/a history of female drowning.” Drowning does feel like something iconic in the deaths of women (Ophelia, Virginia Woolf). Drowning has also been a preferred method of infanticide, especially with unwanted girls. Water subsumes mother and child alike (again, a replica of the womb). At the same time, there is deep sympathy for the people involved in these situations. The title implies undertaking fertility treatments, which, for women who have trouble conceiving, can be a taxing endeavor in every possible sense. Imagine going through all of that only to find you don’t like motherhood very much, or that you aren’t very good at it. Drowning can feel like a way of erasing your mistake, of coming clean.  

In a series of body poems, Blevins focuses on the female form, though not in the way a male artist would, asking, “What is this burden of estrogen?” Blevins describes hair falling out, excessive perspiration. This reads to me like a meditation on age, dealing with mood swings and night sweats, and the anxiety that accompanies these seismic hormonal shifts. “Say my body, drooping and defiant,/ is a thing I can possibly control,” Blevins says, when, obviously, we all knows it’s the opposite. Yet, Blevins celebrates the body in “The Actual Size of the Rifts in the Human Heart May Vary Depending Upon Age and Use,” with erotic descriptions of explosions, “when a tongue figure eights/in your mouth” and “your bones draining into the basin of another woman.”  

My favorite image comes “From My Box of Tangled Memories,” of a girl, “with sirens for hair/and flashing blue and orange where her mouth/should be.” In a book rich with sensory imagery, I found that very evocative, the meshing of the mythological sirens with a beacon of warning.  

Water is a recurring motif—the feminine/womb imagery, as I mentioned, but water is also a powerful natural symbol on its own. I hear the quiet of the Midwest in the waters, in images of ponds, both wet and dry (even in its absence, water leaves an indelible mark). I hear the hills and plains. Blevins also weaves in combines, semis on back highways, stones, chicken, and deer. Even wood paneling and a rifle make appearances, which you will find in almost any mid-century home in the dozen states that make up the Heartland.  

Another recurring motif is color, which makes sense for poems that were inspired by visual art. “Promises Attached to this World” is a simply beautiful poem inspired by Mitchell’s No Birds, which, in turn, was inspired by van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows. Mitchell believed that this was van Gogh’s suicide note. This poem is the most overtly ekphrastic, referring directly to “the blue in the corner,” the suggestion of blackbirds in flight on the canvas. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that this is one of Mitchell’s less abstract pieces.  

Now that I’ve viewed Mitchell’s art, I can see why it would move a woman poet to such an outpouring of expression. I am impressed that Blevins would undertake such a project—transliterating abstract visual art into words is ambitious, to say the least. I’m pleased to say that she rises magnificently to the challenge.

Purchase Letters to Joan on Amazon

Also, be sure to check out The Harbor Review, an art and literary journal of which Allison Blevins is the publisher/editor-in-chief. They are currently open to submissions.