Sunday, November 20, 2016

News in My Small Corner of the Poetry World

Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head Caught in a Kiss

One of the better things happening in the 21st century is the proliferation of small presses. One such press is Terrapin Books, the brainchild of poet Diane Lockward. Diane's first anthology with the press is The Doll Collection which came out earlier this year. With all the craziness in the air these days, I am thrilled to be able to focus on a bit of good news. I've just been told that my poem "Potato Head" first published in The Doll Collection has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Terrapin Books.

This is a beautiful collection of poems with work from Denise Duhamel, Richard Garcia, Mary Ellen Talley, Ingrid Wendt, and Cecilia Woloch among many others. If you are looking for a holiday gift, this would be a good place to start.

Here is my contribution to the collection; I hope you enjoy. Are there still any Howard Johnson's left? The orange and blue signs were scattered across New England promising ice cream and a clean place to sleep. Sweetheart soap was a chidlhood obsession. 

Potato Head

I’ve told you where I’m coming from

so you can piece it together:

Mr. Potato Head sessions with

         Mrs. Potato Head arguing over

         the grocery bill, sex, the imminent

         shut off of the heat. Here in the basement

of grey cement and bare bulbs,

we jabbed plastic spikes deep into Idaho

spuds, added enormous eyes and ears,

       yarmulkes and long beards.

      In the coldness of that house

      I built an empire of miniature soaps

from budget inns and Howard Johnson's

for Mrs. Potato Head to drown

in dishwater: her cups and plates dripping

     Sweetheart clean. We played and played

     not knowing the lives we were inventing

     were old flimflam landscapes

of too much work for not enough pay.

Though sometimes we’d borrow an orange

from the fruit bowl and give it a small hat,

      toothpick legs, and blue magic

      marker boots. We didn’t need maps

      or mirrors to find a way out of the echo

chambers of childhood – just

a vegetable and a fruit repurposed

for two Jewish girls in a basement

      trying with spells and with death-

      defying stubbornness, so hard

     to reshape the afternoon blues.

                    Susan Rich, The Doll Collection, edited by Diane Lockward

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Saturday Morning Poetry Prompt with January O'Neil

If you read The Alchemist's Kitchen, you know that I am a huge fan of January O'Neil's poetry. She has the ability to render complex emotions in a deceivingly accessible poem --- and make you recognize yourself in the process.

In her most recent book, Misery Islands, O'Neil imagines a future where her children will write the tell all book of their childhood -- a sort of Mommy Dearest for the 21st century. Of course, O'Neil is a very different kind of mother --- a loving, if sometimes distracted, single mom. In the poem, her children turn to raisins while the speaker watches baseball or they complain that she "would rather write than speak."

When January O'Neil came to Highline College where I teach, I studied Misery Islands with my creative writing students. For many of them, it was their first time writing poems. Since only a few of them are parents, we decided to switch the title to "What My Mother Will Write About Me in Her Tell-All Future Book." These were some of the strongest pieces of they wrote all quarter. The mix of humor and pathos appealed to them --- and of course "telling" on their mother seemed to be great fun.

I also offer the option of writing about a father or grandmother or big sister --- clearly not everyone will have a mother to write about. I  use this exercise every quarter and the results are always amazing. Students are excited that they've written something about someone they care about --- and O'Neil's poem as a model keeps them from getting too syrupy.

I've also po-jacked this poem and tweaked it a little: "My Mother Returns from the Dead to Appear on Oprah." But that will wait for another posting. For now,  enjoy this poem and try a "tell-all" poem of your own. 

What My Kids Will Write about Me in Their Future Tell-All Book

They will say that no was my favorite word,
more than stop, or eat, or love.

That some mornings, I’d rather stay in bed,
laptop on lap, instead of making breakfast,
that I’d rather write than speak.

They will say they have seen me naked.
Front side, back side—none of which
were my good side.

To read the rest of this poem go to the Cavaan Kerry website. This includes an interview with January O'Neil by Nin Andrews.