Sunday, August 7, 2022
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
their Poetry Unbound series. Their commentator Pádraig Ó Tuama says, "This poem has a deep knowledge about what it means for your own body to bear witness to your past, to your generations past. The grandfather in this poem is one of the four generations being evoked, because we hear of Denise, we hear of her mother, of her grandfather, and that man’s mother, also. And he’s walking, and he doesn’t seem unsettled, but he seems to be looking for a home to be found in the body and life and experiences of his granddaughter. And an invitation from this is to consider, what are the ways within my past generations are looking for a home, maybe a resolution, maybe an opportunity for change, maybe an opportunity for defiance, maybe an opportunity to say: 'I’m still here'?" Read or listen to the poem here:
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Kathryn Kysar is the author of the poetry books Dark Lake and Pretend the World, and she edited Riding Shotgun: Women Write about Their Mothers. We attended graduate school together at Wichita State University, one of the oldest MFA programs in the country, and we have remained friends. Kysar writes passionately and cares passionately about participating in literary communities. She founded the creative writing program at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, and she has been active as a board member of major literary organizations (AWP, Rain Taxi) as a behind-the-scenes booster. She’s recently published poetry in The Mollyhouse and Sleet (forthcoming). Links to recent poems are “After You Leave” in Voicemail Poems; “Photograph: Little League Practice” in The Under Review; “Lake Superior: Three Scenes of Summer” in About Place Journal. This email interview takes place May 10, 2022.
Denise Low: You are one of the most socially committed people I know. How does this affect your choices in writing?
Kathryn Kysar: I am in a constant state of growth and self-correction in my struggle with internalized racism. I am a product of our patriarchal capitalist society that is based on genocide and slavery, and I continue to learn about this history and how my privilege warps my perceptions. I am currently writing a travelogue about a driving trip I took with my son last summer that examines our family’s settler colonialist past and the false stories conveyed through the generations.
DL: Writing about your second book of poetry Pretend the World (Holy Cow! Press), Rigoberto González writes, “Kysar's ability to politicize parenting and gender offer a gripping but blunt way of seeing the lives we create, the wars we wage, the things we consume, and the connections we make without overbearing sentimentality or righteousness.” (Poetry Foundation). How has being a parent informed your writing subject matter and your writing process?
KK: Gender inequities continue to be a central focus of my writing. As the parent of a transgender child, I have closely witnessed the horrors of transphobia and the deep harm of daily microaggressions. Is the personal political? Of course. Our lives, including the act of raising children, take place within our racist, sexist, and classist society. To ignore the context of within which we parent would be ignoring these truths. One function of poetry is to unveil the truth, to say the unsaid, hopefully “without overbearing sentimentality or righteousness.”
DL: Collaboration is one of the ways you work with community. I remember for Pretend the World that you collaborated with visual artists to create a show of artworks that responded to individual poems. What was that like for you, to see your poems re-envisioned in another genre? What other collaborations have you been involved in recently?
KK: Thanks for asking about collaboration! The visual art shows that accompanied Pretend the World were astounding to me. I was in awe that my humble poems could trigger such engaging and varied pieces. I invited five artists who work in different mediums to respond to the poems in the book with their artwork. Some pieces, like Jan Elftmann’s sculptural white horse, referenced a single line in a poem. Philip Noyed’s “Dresses Everywhere” is a hanging globe of little dresses that echoed an entire poem as well as the book’s title. The show was presented in several galleries, and Jes Lee’s poetry videos are available on YouTube. It was a joyously fun project. I am currently writing poems in response to a series of Angela Spencer’s tarot card paintings, and we have upcoming shows scheduled for 2022-2023. My last big project was a collaborative recording of the poems from Pretend the World. I invited guest poets, musicians, and singers to record a poem. One of the happiest moments of my life was sitting in the studio sound booth and hearing how others understood and expressed my work so eloquently.
DL: In an interview for Write On Door County (2017), you wrote: “I deeply enjoy collaborative creation across the arts: I have had several shows with visual artists, written poems to pre-recorded music, and regularly perform with an improvisational poetry/music group called the Sonoglyph Collective. A sample Sonoglyph performance is “Escape from Paradise Iowa.” The musicians in this group are dynamite! What have you learned from this project?
KK: Since our graduation reading when I read my poems accompanied by a musician, I have been striving to take poetry off the page. The Sonoglyph Collective is an improvisational jazz/poetry group featuring four poets and three musicians: Sean Egan on clarinet, Jonathan Townsend on drums, Aaron Kerr on bass, with poets Lynette Rein-Grandell, Hawona Sullivan Janzen, Ibe Kaba, and myself. We blend the spoken word with music in improvisational ways. Our performances bring my poetry into the bliss of making meaningful sound with others. I have always been deeply connected with music—I worked in the music business for five years before starting my present job—and had always longed to be in a band. There is a connection, a creative energy, in the process of musical performance that I do not gain any other way.
KK: I am always, of course, writing poems, but my recent focus has been writing creative nonfiction. My lyric essays are constructed much like poems and weave dense imagery with insights and observations, often about the past. You can read some of my recent CNF work in Slag Glass City and The Mollyhouse.
DL: Is there anything else you would like to add?
KK: Thanks so much for this conversation!
Kathryn Kysar is the author of two books of poetry, Dark Lake and Pretend the World, and she edited the anthology Riding Shotgun: Women Write About Their Mothers. She has received fellowships and residencies from the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Tofte Lake Center, and the Oberholtzer Foundation. Her poems have appeared in anthologies such as To Sing Along the Way and Good Poems, American Places. Kysar has served on the board of directors for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) and Rain Taxi Review. She is the founder of the creative writing program at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and offers manuscript consultations through The Loft Literary Center. Twitter: @darklake Instagram: @Pretendtheworld
Thursday, April 14, 2022
Sunday, March 13, 2022
TWO GATES by DENISE LOW
I look through glass and see a young woman
of twenty, washing dishes, and the window
turns into a painting. She is myself thirty years ago.
She holds the same blue bowls and brass teapot
I still own. I see her outline against lamplight;
she knows only her side of the pane. The porch
where I stand is empty. Sunlight fades. I hear
water run in the sink as she lowers her head,
blind to the future. She does not imagine I exist.
I step forward for a better look and she dissolves
into lumber and paint. A gate I passed through
to the next life loses shape. Once more I stand
squared into the present, among maple trees
and scissor-tailed birds, in a garden, almost
a mother to that faint, distant woman.
And here is Kim Tedrow's poem "after" this one: / Kim Tedrow
and I see myself at twenty,
hair straight and long, parted
down the middle for the first time
since before I knew myself,
except now I’m paying attention.
I see her loneliness as a quarry
from which she mines men
to whom she is disposable.
She wakes in someone’s home
and leaves without her shoes
so as not to wake him.
She wants to be a secret.
Her apartment overlooks a lot
where musicians park by the bar.
Later she goes there to dance.
Gladiolas grow next to the stairs.
Her father stops by
when she is not there
and tucks a picture of himself
into the door frame. She writes
“I could not bear to lose him.”
I see her and bring her back
to myself. She does not want to come
here–she cannot imagine the life
we live now–alone and happy.
In the meeting when it’s my turn
I speak up, I make myself known.
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Remarks presented at the Watkins Museum celebration of William Stafford's birthday, January 15,I am so honored to have known William Stafford, born January 17, 1914, at the beginning of my writing life. His person and his poetry influenced me to strive for reflective engagement with natural and human surroundings. He uses poetry for play, for surprises in language, for folding the outside patterns of nature into my inner life, comingling the two. He fit his poetics to align with the unique grasslands ecology of the region where he grew up, from Liberal to Hutchinson to Lawrence—where he received his BA and MA. The sparse landscape of horizontals with gentle angles of ridges creates a backdrop where any vertical, like a watermill or steeple or horse, becomes dramatic. Human experience is set against an enormous sweep of sky.
The most important aspect of Stafford’s poetics is his humility, which gives him the ability to step aside from the role of master over the wilderness, which was the biblical tradition. Instead, he took the pose of one who listens and learns, as in this favorite of mine, which suggests his Indigenous background: https://www.ayearofbeinghere.com/2014/06/william-stafford-listening.html
Listening by William Stafford:
My father could hear a little animal step,
or a moth in the dark against the screen,
and every far sound called the listening out
into places where the rest of us had never been.
More spoke to him from the soft wild night
than came to our porch for us on the wind;
we would watch him look up and his face go keen
till the walls of the world flared, widened.
My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that other place.
He mixes the human and natural worlds, with the “moth in the dark against the screen” and the portal between the two realms, the “porch.” The porch becomes the interface between mortality and immortality.
A second point about Stafford’s poetics: his discussion of ethics. “Traveling Through the Dark” is the most well-known example of this, where he pauses and could “hear the wilderness listen.” He reverses the role of judge and makes readers aware that their actions, like his, have moral consequences. And finally, the language is subtle, like the landscape, with deep images that continue to build layers throughout the years. The dead deer by the side of the rode is singular and memorable. Not many details appear in the verse, and the image of the deer is the point, not the poet’s acrobatic use of vocabulary and rhetorical devices. Here is the poem “Traveling Through the Dark by Willilam Stafford: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/42775/traveling-through-the-dark
My poem responds to “Listening.”
Variations on Keening by Denise Low
We would watch him look up and his face go keen. William Stafford
My father’s face goes keen. Cicadas drone as
darkness walls us in. His eyes are echoes
on fire. He speaks kennings. His wise eyes
turn blue fire. His prophet’s sight pierces night
with keen perception. Agate rings lie buried
in river mud. His eyes see their spirals.
A sunfish rouges under a keen-bladed knife.
Sequin scales flake. Its eyes darken into a stare
beyond ken. I keen. My father’s twin-star eyes
gaze equally into and out of the dark.
Wings (Red Mountain Press, 2021)
My play on “ken” and “keen” emphasizes my wonder at the same cosmos that Stafford knew in the grasslands of Kansas. I conflate him with my father, born a few moths after Stafford and twenty miles away. Stafford is my poetic father. His example of self-effacement, images, and focus on a few key words—these I try to follow. www.deniselow.net
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
an Age of Certainty, based on a poem’s title. What led you to choose this as the book title?
eye as a political sign, and a row of eight figures dressed in black. Why did you choose this image? What does it signify to you?
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
The opposite of life is… Well, death’s opposite is hunger “Love and death,” the poet says, “love and death.” Horsetail clouds framed by a window tease dying leaves, red in setting sun. Bah. All preamble to my saying again, how much I love this graveyard we tread daily. Let me walk thigh- deep in the river, sit under winter’s red skies. We can be friends, but dirt is my only lover. We will lie together, rise in each other’s clothes.
Thursday, October 8, 2020
Eileen R. Tabios has developed a
following as a writer, blogger, book collector, artist, and reviewer. Here is an
interview with her, and scroll down for a review of her book PAGPAG by Neil
Leadbeater. I first heard her name from my poetry friends and then saw her poetry
review online journal GALATEA RESURRECTS (A POETRY ENGAGEMENT), an important commentary
on contemporary verse. After relocating to northern California, I looked her
up, and we have enjoyed an ongoing dialogue about our writing, her small book
library, her fostered dogs, and
more. We exchanged questions and answers for this interview in early October, 2020, as she and her family were displaced by the Glass Fire.
ERT That is a good question, because this book is an interruption of the writing styles I was exploring. These stories (except for one I added to cohere the collection) were published from 1995-2000; they represent me as a newbie creative writer, and I do not write the way I wrote back then. But I decided to re-issue them as a book in protest against the cruel policies of current Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte as well as his complicity in rehabilitating the reputation of the family of Martial Law dictator Ferdinand Marcos. I thought it important to remind people that Martial Law occurred, was damaging, and offers a legacy wherein junior-Marcos-type politicians undeservedly thrive to the detriment of the Filipino people they are supposed to serve.
Having said that, I am calling *interruption* only as regards writing style. PAGPAG’s stories are not that far from a consistent root cause to my poetry, which is addressing injustice. In my case, injustice helped create me as a diasporic. But it’s okay that I present from the diaspora because, as I say in my introduction, the effects of a dictatorship go beyond the obvious killings and torture of political rebels; the effect continues for generations and beyond national borders, and one result is the growth of diaspora. The growth in diasporic movement is not just from opposition politicians fleeing the dictator but also the population going overseas for work and other opportunities not available domestically, due to insufficient domestic development policies.
One aggravating—though not the most important—result of injustice is how it interrupts Beauty. I am very interested in exploring the many facets of Beauty (much of my poetry attests to that), but addressing injustice is of course a worthy diversion. For PAGPAG, the proverbial straw that caused me to release this book—and it was a very swift process from that decision to publication, thanks to Paloma Press publisher Aileen Cassinetto, who empathized and saw exactly what I was trying to do—was when I learned how the word “pagpag” had turned from its original definition of “dusting off” objects to be one of when poor people recover food dumped into trash landfills before attempting to clean them for re-cooking into new meals (you can see, and be offended as I was by, this video: ).
While PAGPAG is a short story collection, it also offers poems (inevitably so since I am a poet), including its ending poem from which I excerpt about the choice-that-is-a-non-choice faced by the poor:
How to choose between malnutrition versus Hepatitis A
malnutrition versus typhoid
malnutrition versus diarrhea
malnutrition versus cholera
A Filipino scholar I respect noted that the pagpag practice can exemplify the resilience of a people who otherwise might starve. Far be it for me to criticize actions by the hungry and malnourished, but all of those diseases mentioned in my poem can result from eating food scavenged from trash. So I was enraged at how the political leadership allowed this fate for poor people. I truly feel a nation must be judged, too, by how well (or not) it treats its weakest constituents. The poor are not given enough support, so the least I can do is remind with a book, even though inevitably I must write from the position of one who was able to leave and is outside the country. I do say in my Introduction:
"The aftermath [of a dictator’s actions] is not always obvious like the imprisoned, the tortured, or the salvaged (murdered); the aftermath goes deep to affect even future generations in a diaspora facilitated by corruption, incompetence, and venality."
DL What did you hope to accomplish with writing this book?
ERT My voice from the diaspora is not as important as those (in the Philippines) directly helping the poor and working for political change. But I suppose I just wanted to add my voice, which perhaps can add another element to illustrating the effects of a dictatorship, as I describe above. The stories all maintain a “from the diaspora” point of view but they are from the fictionalized children of the anti-Marcos opposition that had to leave the Philippines while Marcos was in power. I am just adding a modest voice to the clamor protesting against those failing in their public duties.
DL What differences do you find between writing poetry and writing fiction? Any similarities?
ERT I find I am more didactic when writing fictional prose—that the about-ness is more privileged than if I was writing a poem. This, by the way, is why I feel that in terms of effectiveness, the poems in PAGPAG are not as good as the short stories. The poems elide too much of the specifics that need to be shared full-frontally about the nature of political abuse and dictatorship. The poems, thus, are in support of the fiction which do a better job in communication because of their didacticism that offers specifics.
This is not to say that political poems cannot do justice to what they are addressing. I am only talking about me, and how I prefer in poetry to address Beauty than non-Beauty, knowing I can go to other forms like fiction when I want to do something else.
DL Often people note that United States poets fail to write many good lyric poems that are political statements overtly, as the didacticism detracts from the lyricism. Perhaps here you say the elision of lyric poetry also makes political poetry more difficult. Thank you for that insight. You and I have talked about my good fortune in meeting Bienvenido Santos when he was a professor in my MFA program. He first made me aware of the political and personal tragedies in his and your homeland. What else would you like to share about your book or its impetus?
ERT I would not go so far as to say lyricism makes political poetry more difficult. I only know that part of my position is not having to be constrained by only writing poems. I can write prose, too.
As for what else I would like to share about the book, the (abusive) effects due to the extremes of rich vs. poor and elite vs. disenfranchised are well-known and stretch back over much of human history. But as a person of my/our time, I notice what seems to me more drastic gulfs caused by wealth spurred by technology and financially leveraged products, among others. In the past, we certainly had the Rockefeller wealth due to oil and J.P. Morgan’s wealth due to finance, and these wealths, proportionately, may not be significantly different from those of today's Gates, Bezos, or Musk. But it seems to me that we have more such gazillionaires today. I speculate that the more you have of such people, the more they are able to create a culture such as a financial wealth-created bubble; such a bubble creates thicker borders because there are enough people with whom to socialize within that bubble.
Then, I suspect that from that bubble—and economic elite of course can translate to political
and other types of elitists—you start seeing politicians with decreasing empathy for the weakest among their constituencies. For they are not as in touch with them, or they recognize the suffering of other people as theoretical versus lived. In the Philippines, for example, there is a group of families that usually control economic and political standing. In the U.S., well, how much empathy has the President shown for people who live in various margins?
In my Introduction to PAGPAG, I insist that “it’s not okay. Pagpag is never okay—especially in a land where others spend ‛15 million pesos on a handbag’” when a serving of a pagpag meal can cost "as little as 20 pesos hard-earned by the poor.”
I do not know if my book PAGPAG offers any benefit. But as I write in PAGPAG, “A writer writes and here I write in protest—I know writing by itself is not adequate… But I do believe in the ultimate power of the written word and this book would be among those I’d send back from the diaspora to the Philippines.”
Consequently, too, I am glad to share that PAGPAG will have a Philippine edition released by the end of this year. It will be published and distributed in the Philippines by Wesleyan University Philippines. I could not have expected this result when I first put together the book. But I am glad because it is fitting that this facet of my writings return to the homeland. Not everything should remain in exile. And/or, I do not need to remain exiled.
DL This is almost a note of optimism. Thank you so much for your reflections.
NEIL LEADBEATER reviews Pagpag:
The Dictator’s Aftermath In The Diaspora by Eileen R. Tabios (Paloma Press, 2020, available at https://eileenrtabios.com/fiction/pagpag/)
“Pagpag” is a Tagalog word meaning “to shake off dust or dirt” in the sense of fluffing up bedding to get rid of dust or shaking off crumbs that have landed in your lap. More recently it has come to refer to the scavenging of leftover food from garbage cans. Beggars or scavengers shake the food to remove the dirt that may have become attached to it. People who scavenge for leftovers in the Philippines will frequently cook what they find to make it less dangerous to eat.
In this collection of eleven protest stories, written between 1995 and 2001, Eileen Tabios rakes through the debris of “the continuing past” of a ruthless dictatorship to register her offence at having been forced to join the Philippine diaspora. For her, “pagpag” “heart-wrenchingly symbolizes like no other the effects of a corrupt government unable to take care of – indeed, abusing – its people.”
In her introduction she says, “A writer writes, and here I write in protest – I know writing by itself is not adequate, even as I humbly offer this collection to readers. But I do believe in the ultimate power of the written word and this book would be among those I’d send back from the diaspora to the Philippines.”
Throughout this collection, poverty is described in all its forms and not just in terms of a lack of money. It is also seen with reference to a lack of opportunity and, more importantly, a lack of being able to make one’s voice heard and a lack of being able to do anything about it. There are old men and women sleeping on hard surfaces, small farmers forced out of business, companies stripped of their assets and a displaced population from Calauit who end up dying of starvation.
There are also many things that have been discarded, broken or inadvertently left behind: a diamond ring and a pair of earrings, halved coconut husks, the broken fragments of a crystal vase, the mountainous trash heaps of wasted food in the foothills of Manila. All of these have consequences for the poor.
There is plenty of variety too, ranging from the politically charged “Force Majeure” and “Redeeming Memory” to the politically correct “Homeland” and the comic “Pork” and “Tapey.” Ghosts are present in at least three of these stories, but there is a sense in which they haunt every one of them as Tabios confronts her past.
The cover image, Self-Contained (2009) by Rea Lynn de Guzman—an interdisciplinary artist working in painting, print media, and sculpture—is the perfect fit to this collection since, like Tabios, she also immigrated from the Philippines to the United States at an early age, sharing that common bond of displacement and exile. This is a powerful collection of stories that illustrates the extent to which the legacy of dictatorship is still being felt today within the Filipino diaspora.
Neil Leadbeater is an author, essayist, poet, and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His publications include Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments (Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014), Finding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017), Punching Cork Stoppers (Original Plus, 2018) and Penn Fields (Littoral Press, 2019). His work has been translated into several languages.
Eileen R. Tabios loves books and has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in ten countries and cyberspace. Publications include form-based Selected Poems, The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets (1996-2019), THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL: Selected Visual Poetry (2001-2019), INVENT(ST)ORY: Selected Catalog Poems & New (1996-2015), and THE THORN ROSARY: Selected Prose Poems & New (1998-2010); the first book-length haybun collection, 147 MILLION ORPHANS (MMXI-MML); a collection of 7-chapter novels, SILK EGG; an experimental autobiography AGAINST MISANTHROPY; as well as two bilingual and one trilingual editions involving English, Spanish, and Romanian. Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku poetic form as well as a first poetry book, Beyond Life Sentences (1998), which received the Philippines’ National Book Award for Poetry (Manila Critics Circle). Her poems have been translated into 11 languages as well as computer-generated hybrid languages, paintings, video, drawings, visual poetry, mixed media collages, Kali martial arts, music, modern dance, sculpture and a sweatshirt. Additionally, she has edited, co-edited or conceptualized 15 anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays as well as exhibited visual art and visual poetry in the United States, Asia and Serbia.
Saturday, September 26, 2020
“We look at the world once in childhood.
The rest is memory.” Louise Gluck
In my first house of cut-up puzzles
Mother disappears behind jumbled
heights, walls, gravity windowpanes—
a domain of no lullabies
but instead, pauses.
In the upstairs room under elms
stars pelt the glass.
Hunger returns. Under my chin
white ruffles loop endlessly.
I remember to this day
the curved bassinet, dusty pink,
how I lived within its wicker.
Later she stored it on the back porch
where even now, generations later,
it calls me to return.