Virtual Salon #3 with Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers

There’s one scar
             a river carved, but this ground isn’t
a bible you know. True,

there are chapters
            of basalt and clay,
but no leaves get saved between them.
           -from "Amazonis, Mars"

The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers documents a different crisis than the one we're currently, ineffectively navigating: people depart from Earth's terrible environmental damage to help settle a colony on Mars. As a big fan of Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars trilogy, and as someone who fantasized in childhood of rocketing off in interplanetary travel, I love this premise and its inventive execution. Rogers' language is lovely and surprising, and she's exceptionally formally adventurous. "Red Planet Application," in which she mimics, you guessed it, an application form, reminds me (in a good way) of Oliver de la Paz's powerful "Autism Screening Questionnaire" series in another wonderful new book, The Boy in the Labyrinth. (At least I remember that as a series--I'm away from most of my books now.) There are also loose riffs in The Tilt on more traditional forms, such as two unrhymed sonnet crowns and "Lolita's Rover Ballad."  Often Rogers uses the page as field in the tradition of Charles Olson, a strategy that particularly suits the book's strange terrain. Finally, like all good sf, this book interrogates history, such as the gendered violence that accompanies all kinds of missionary experiments. Below, she attends the next meeting of my Virtual Salon.

If you were ordering thematically appropriate refreshments for this shindig, what would they be?

Whiskey, I believe, is the only true drink mentioned in the collection–it’s pretty dry on Mars–and maybe we could use it to make red-planet themed cocktails in space-aged looking glasses.

Eats: Olive varieties from the old Gethsemane (referenced in “Arcadia, Mars,”). Lolita’s candy stash, which includes old-school jawbreakers (“Lolita’s Rover Ballad”). Fried rice, eggs, and magic mushrooms (from “Seven Catastrophes”). 

If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

Right now, on top of the terrifying crisis we’re all a part of, I’m dealing with the disappointment of having my robust book tour cancelled.  Some things will be rescheduled, but it’s not the spring I was expecting. I’ve been mostly home with my baby since he was born last April, and instead of going out into the public, I’m home with our kid. 

This pandemic is going to change us as a culture in ways I can’t even imagine. We’ll be talking about it for the rest of our lives.

Writing-wise, I’m in a period of relative quiet, I would say. We have a small human here, and it’s been so hard to write this year; it’s hard to even think. My biggest goal this year is to make sure he was taken care of. I’m always writing–slowly, badly–and it takes a very long time for me to figure out what the next project really is.  I’ve been writing a lot this year about parenthood and climate change. One of those subjects is perennial for me; the other is new. I also have a book of essays I’m trying to publish. Stay tuned.

How can your virtual audience find out more?

Acre Books’s page; author‘s page; and you can order the book here. The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons was a Rumpus Book Club pick, and you can read our various conversations here: https://therumpus.net/2019/12/why-i-chose-elizabeth-lindsey-rogerss-the-tilt-torn-away-from-the-seasons-for-the-rumpus-poetry-book-club/ Here‘s an interview with the journal MEMORIOUS about the book.

*Finally, dear readers, please check out an interview about The State She’s In on Will Woolfitt’s terrific Speaking of Marvels blog. It includes my thoughts about research, giving readings, and the difficulty of writing whiteness, plus a PLAYLIST for the book. All kinds of writers and editors are volunteering to bruit new poetry books now. I’m so grateful to Will and all of the rest of them!


			

the salonnière introduces …the state she’s in!

My book is now available from Tinderbox Editions! And, once we get through this, it will also be available in independent bookstores near you.

In the meantime, I hereby introduce a virtual salon for authors launching poetry books plus anyone who enjoys a pretend party. Imagine this space as a high-ceilinged room, art-fans lounging on its velvet divans. The upholstery is a little threadbare, the paint on the moldings chipped here and there, but that just makes everyone feel more comfortable and bohemian. Trays laden with canapés gleam on some of the side tables; others groan under the weight of oozy cheeses, fat grapes, champagne bottles, expensive scotch, and cans of pamplemousse La Croix. The scent of beeswax tapers burning in candelabras mingles with the aroma of a nearby sculptor’s bare feet. An enlivening breeze sometimes wafts through the French doors, which are open to a balcony that overlooks city lights. Someone near the window adjusts their beaded shawl and laughs.

A shameless salonnière, I stand up first, welcome all of you, and introduce my own damn book, The State She’s In. (Did I mention it’s now available from Tinderbox Editions?) Here are my answers to the three questions I plan to ask many guests in turn:

If you were ordering thematically appropriate refreshments for this shindig, what would they be?

Wine varietals mentioned in my book include rioja, garnacha, and chardonnay, so we are well-beveraged; I can add to the menu a Black Walnut Celebration Lager I drank at AWP ’19 in Portland, with my poem “Black Walnut” in mind. After some syllables of cheese, wild rice blini topped with sour cream and caviar, and quesadillas with postlapsarian salsa verde, we will savor ramekins of pawpaw crème brulée.

If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

My loved ones and I are well, although we’re all worried, and my son is sad about having his first year at Haverford cut short. He’s also a straight-A student who is suddenly unable to concentrate. That teaches me something about how online instruction is likely to go and how forgiving and flexible we’ll all have to be. I’m not surprised this transition is logistically challenging for a seminar teacher like me, but it’s been emotionally harder than I expected. My identity is wrapped up in being a good teacher. It’s upsetting to let go of some of the standards I hold myself to.

I’m writing emails and texts plus revising syllabi. I also started a Pandemic Diary on paper, because I’ve heard from historians that they often lack as-it-happens accounts of crisis. No poetry at all, but it will come back–and really, when poets are in publicity mode they rarely get much writing done anyway. I’d remind everyone, though, that there’s actual scientific research suggesting that daily expressive writing improves immunity.

How can your virtual audience find out more?

For me, it’s my self-designed and therefore basic website as well as my page in the Tinderbox Editions store, where you can find the amazing blurbs some incredibly generous poets wrote for The State She’s In: Diane Seuss, Oliver de la Paz, and Linda Lewis. They are clicking virtual glasses in this salon, and they look fabulous.

***Stay tuned for future gatherings, and please let me know what books should be on my radar. Many possible factors could affect frequency; also, I want to read each book before introducing it. I’d love to post once a week, though–perhaps more often. Be well, friends!

Poetry and heart

Thanks to the folks at Copper Nickel! The new issue contains my essay on Robert Sullivan, “Uncanny Activisms”

I looked up “heart” and found definitions including feeling, courage, enthusiasm, vital part, “the condition of agricultural land as regards fertility,” personality, disposition, compassion, generosity, character, charity, humanity, and of course love. It has associations with memory, too (“by heart”) and deep concern (“to heart”). Obsolete: intellect, which is pretty much the opposite of what most people mean by “heart” now. My curiosity about the word is probably connected to valentine season, but I’ve also been reading a ton of poetry lately and thinking about what draws me to some poems more than others–a set of qualities I sometimes call heart.

My reading includes twelve finalist mss I’m musing over for a poetry prize as well as assignments for a course on documentary poetry: first Rukeyser’s sequence “The Book of the Dead,” then Forché’s The Country Between Us, then a sampling of poetic responses to Hurricane Katrina including some by Cynthia Hogue (interview poems), Raymond McDaniel (ethically problematic collage), and Patricia Smith (often persona poems). Most recently we finished Nicole Cooley’s Breach, a rewarding book to teach not least because it’s so various in forms and approaches. It was a student favorite and when I asked why, they said “authenticity.” When I asked what the signs or markers of authenticity were, the answers seem to boil down to vulnerability. Self-interrogation; courage; generosity; getting to the heart of things, even when exposure makes you look bad. In Cooley’s return to post-hurricane New Orleans, her childhood home, with her daughters, this sometimes means longing to be mothered rather than to mother, a taboo emotion for a woman to admit.

Extracurricularly, I just read Molly Spencer‘s recent If the House too, and it’s an open-hearted missive from the interior of a body, a marriage, and multiple houses. I love the porosity of Spencer’s containers, the flow of information inward and outward. You could call it circulation.

I’m in a receptive mode; I’m not writing much, except for an occasional blog post or tweet (and a bazillion emails). I often write little poetry in winter and then things turn in spring, partly because of the academic calendar and partly the natural one. My sweetheart and I just took a walk in the woods–every Saturday, we try to get out of our neighborhood, walk elsewhere, this time on trails a bit of a drive away–and it was so bright, cold, and still. Wild onions had sent up curling leaves and the moss was green, but otherwise it was just gray boles, brown mud, fallen branches, leaf duff. Inner and outer weather match.

In town, though, crocus and snowdrops are arriving, early omens of a busier season. I’m not sure I’m ready for spring and the associated book-launch madness, but at least I have the generous blurbs below to reassure me the book is worth at least some attention. That matters so much, when writers you admire will spend their time reading your work and saying thoughtful, encouraging words about it. It gives me heart.

November invocations

Write a blog post that is a spell, Oliver de la Paz said to my class, only he said poem, of course, because I had asked him to give us a poetry prompt. The first line and the last line must be the same, he added, as the afternoon light toasted up golden and he reclined in the chair, gazing up at the ceiling. It must contain the color teal, he went on, and the breath of a machine, and bibliomancy–have you done that yet?–pick up a nearby book and incorporate the first line or sentence on page 100 into your poem.

That was Tuesday. During Thursday’s workshop, the last before break, we debriefed on how wonderful his visit had been. But we don’t know how to write a spell, my students complained. I smiled mysteriously, knowing I had writing time coming and the prompt was really for me.

From page 100 of a childhood compendium of Brontë novels: “Threading this chaos,” Charlotte writes in Jane Eyre, “I at last reached the larder; there I took possession of a cold chicken, a roll of bread, some tarts, a plate or two and a knife and fork: with this booty I made a hasty retreat.” Sounds like Thanksgiving week, during which I am retreating with pies and poultry. Let there be solitude for any writer who needs it, and let it be filling.

Let the editors also have quiet brains, the better to appreciate your and my genius, and let them offer us contracts for our masterworks–lo, promptly and with praise! Let our laptops pant with the warmth of our email exchanges.

In the sage-scented steam, let every brain in these territories brim with new metaphors and opening lines of poems yet to be. Let lying politicians swoon under sonnet attacks and be unable to utter any words except in meditative strains of iambic pentameter. Let swords be beaten into sibilance, power-abusers shuffled off in pantoums, and every vacated position find a feminine rhyme.

Let me not care if this blog is a little cryptic, random, and mistily mystical, because I am very tired! Let me read and write for a single weekend, at least, and not get caught back up in the recommendation/class prep/grading/event-planning vortex too soon. Let gray waves of worry calm to blue-green clarity. Let me release hurt feelings at things colleagues and relatives say or don’t say, because, ye gods, my habits of vigilance and bruising are a pain in my unroyal behind.

I know something about spells and there are plenty of things I want to change, within and beyond the spaces of my person and to-do list. If you feel the same, go on.

Write a poem that is a spell.

fem gourd