Thursday, June 14, 2018

DEAR ALL,: A Love Letter to the World


        DEAR ALL,

        by Maggie Anderson

        Published September, 2017
        by Four Way Books

        ISBN: 9781935536970

        88 pages


What a delight to closely read and explore the poems in Maggie Anderson’s fifth and much-anticipated collection, DEAR ALL. Maggie has long been an anchoring presence in the Northeast Ohio poetry community, as founding director of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University,  community ambassador, mentor. Now a Kent State Professor Emerita of English, living in North Carolina, Maggie’s influence is still deeply felt in this corner of Ohio, and most certainly with this reader. I first encountered Maggie as curator and host of the Wick Poetry Reading Series, and had the terrific fortune to be part of her poetry workshop at Chautauqua Institute’s writing festival in 2005―a goad to my own path in poetry.
This collection begins with an open-armed invitation from the title poem; “Dear All,” an epistolary poem addressed to all of the “You’s” closely or remotely or almost encountered. And the reader gladly walks through the door which the poem throws opens, takes a comfortable seat and attends to the work of a seasoned poet. In this first of three sections, the poems’ focus is the evolving self in familial and societal orbits; the tone elegiac, reflective. A reliable “I” carries through this section, the speaker/poet claiming the lead in these narratives. The following poem, “Biography” is just that: in a dreamlike brushstroke, from the time of birth through salient life events. One of the striking features of this piece, and many of the other poems in the collection, is the juxtaposition of  the specific, palpable―a thingness―against abstraction, such as
                        . . .
                        Family arrives on the train in the rain
                                     carrying leather grips and hatboxes.
                        The self blooms,
                                    a chrysalis of sorrow.

Here and throughout, there exists a kind of seesawing of sharp focus and subconscious impression which infuses the work with that delicious sensation of strangeness.  In that same poem:

                        I eat rice from a red lacquer bowl,
                                    Green tea singes my tongue.
                        The riderless horse leads the procession
                                    Fever carries me out of my body.

The elegiac poems are stunning. Mother, father, the war poems, the griefs that define our perspective. Here, in its entirety, is “At Fifty,” one of our most gorgeously moving motherloss poems:

                        At Fifty

                       My mother died at fifty of
                       a beautiful word, leukemia.
                       Nine years earlier
                       in autumn, she gave birth to me
                       when the maples in the park
                       began to turn as they do now.
                       I don’t know how to walk here,
                       in the shifting space no meanings fill.
                       I have outlived her.
                       I enter this foreshortened field,
                       wildly unmothered still.  

Poems of personal loss mingle with collective grief, as enacted by the war poems that dominate the second section of the book. The poet’s engagement with universal loss through images that shake the reader awake to atrocity is evident here. “This is the least I can do―/to remember the war in my books,” the poet states in the last two lines of “Beautiful War.”
These poems deliver a soft gut punch: references to the holocaust, Civil War, unceasing turmoil in the Mideast are contextualized in the speaker’s reflections, her memories, at times a lucid dreaming state when our deepest truths bubble to the surface. For example, in “The Sleep Writer,” a fragmented form mimics the blending of  real and subconscious images in that half-awake state: “Lovely afternoon. The firing squad./Bottles lined up in the sun./Dahlias. Men in uniform. Daffodils.” 
A blending of multi-sensory images of nightmare/surfacing to wakefulness also weave through “Asleep still, I rise:”
            . . .
            Muffle of chopper blades
            Then sharper           red sky, white sand
            Choked engines         flash and chemical singe

In contrast is the calm of the sleep walker’s immediate environment: “. . .a sweet breeze from the opened window/inside the safe rooms of the house.” 

The speaker, here and throughout, expresses a profound empathy with the oppressed, the target, whether human or four-legged animal. In “Cleaning the Guns,” she states, “but really it was the helplessness/I couldn’t get around. The deer absolutely still, alert,/one shot & death. I couldn’t do that.”  

War as an internalized struggle is depicted in the poet’s father poems, most strikingly  in “Note from My Father.” The figure of the father in these poems is a literate and worldly man who chafes against the aphasia that has stolen his language. In a startling image rendered the more poignant by the daughter’s struggle to decipher his message is a description of her father’s efforts at speech, “to say something he thought was clever:” 

He stuttered and stabbed at words.
Like a horse trapped in a forest,
he lifted his head and threw it back,
snorted and cleared his throat.” 

The poems of loss and battles of one kind or another are counterbalanced by the wit of a handful of poems infused with a more musing tone. In the third section, for example, the speaker in “In Real Life" explores the other lives “I seem to have imagined myself into:”

                        In real life, I am planning a new career. I imagine
                        for myself a small congregation of gay Episcopalians
                        somewhere in the Midwest, in a town not know for
                        tolerance, but respectful, even a bit in awe of
                        anything that passes for style. I am their priest,
                        their good shepherd, and all my flock play
                        musical instruments and give amusing dinner parties. 

In another poem in that last section, “Waiting for Jane Austen in Walnut Creek, Ohio, at the end of the twentieth century,” time and situations are blithely bent to allow poet and Jane to exchange centuries and circumstance:

                        . . .Then I was the one in the eighteenth century,
                        in the General Store, examining racks of buttons and spools
                        of thread beside the rakes and ropes as thick as thighs.
                        Jane was tearing down the highway at 65 m.p.h., a wild Beast
                        in her worn leather covers and braid of a bookmark,
                        her apparatus of happiness fully intact. 

The work in this final section of the book ranges in style and subject, and abounds with vivid description. In “The Thing We Can’t Forget,” perseveration “chokes the imagination/like kudzu. . .” and the lushness of the natural world is made otherworldly in “A Blessing,” which opens with “Translucent braid gelled to silver at first light,/the valley’s work, the white, the shining.” And in “The Map,” a metaphor for blossoming tree blunts the hard edge of a singular pain of a parent’s dying:
                       . . .  
                        I wish I could tell him that this week the tiny
                        spoons of the dogwood blossoms turned
                        and drew music up from the drenched ground, 

The breadth of the mind’s associative workings is suggested via abstract yet accessible imagery and startling simile in the poem, “In the Rubble of the World.” Fractured lineation further animates the cascading succession of  surreal impressions in this powerful piece: 
                        . . .
                                    Sun and the wicked noises
                                                march through the air of the brain:
                        the wounded are never clean―
                                                like aubergines
                                                            cut open and left to absorb the atmosphere
                                                the layered opening of dying roses on a wide table
                                                                  green leaves backlit against the flames
                                                            lint clotted in the heavy drape

The book’s closing poem, “And then I arrive at the powerful green hill,” enacts the gesture of letting go all the bitter and sad things laid out in the preceding poems:
                    . . .
                    I have brought everything I've left undone--
                    letters and resolutions, almost loves,
                                 hard grudges--to give to the wind that takes them up,
                                     tosses them down, down until
                    my hands are empty and I am as thin and light as a girl.

This poem beautifully bookends “Biography,” at the start of the book, which begins, “Born, I was born./In sweat and tears I lay on a flowered blanket/. . .My mind is clear as polished glass.” 
The great strength of these personal poems, aside from their technical mastery, is the intensely private made public: most readers have experienced significant loss at some age, have felt undone by the great tragedies in our lifetimes, have pondered the workings of the body, the mind, relative to life’s larger questions; these poems offer words for those profound emotions and perceptions. We are moved by the poet’s disarming vulnerability laid bare in poems like “Ordinary Morning,” where the pain of grief and that of one exiled is without boundary: 
                        . . .
                        I can imagine hunger, quavery
                        Emptiness of nothing to eat and not knowing when.
                        Cut off, amputated in a cold basement with no news, 
                        Sharp static, a green transistor radio

                        O mother and father I prematurely grieved,
                        Where are you now that I need to lose you?
                        . . .                         

Of the myriad lyric qualities in DEAR ALL―the tangible detail underlying clear descriptive narrative, the range of style and forms, the deep bow to influential poets―is the clear and authentic voice of Maggie Anderson. The poet’s voice is straightforward, unembellished, genuine. There is a wonderful story teller’s element in this  compelling collection, which settles us in our reading chair, to listen, to ponder, to imagine. Anderson’s lyric voice is one that is authentic, plain-spoken, so as to be nearly audible; a voice that resonates well after the poems are read. The poet writes to her readers via the book’s title, invites us into her image- and language-rich world. And for this reader, who has long-admired Maggie Anderson’s work, the invitation is most welcome.

Maggie Anderson is the author of four previous books of poetry: Windfall: New and Selected Poems, A Space Filled with Moving, Cold Comfort, and Years that Answer. She has co-edited several thematic anthologies, including A Gathering of Poets, a collection of poems read at the 20th anniversary commemoration of the shootings at Kent State University in 1970, as well as Learning by Heart: Contemporary American Poetry about School and After the Bell: Contemporary American Prose about School. Her awards include two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, fellowships from the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia councils on the arts, and the Ohioana Library Award for contributions to the literary arts in Ohio. The founding director of the Wick Poetry Center and of the Wick Poetry Series of the Kent State University Press, Anderson is a professor emerita of English at Kent State University and now lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

                                                                                           reviewed by Barbara Sabol

Monday, May 14, 2018

Interview with Trish Hopkinson About Her Chapbook Footnote

cover image of Footnote by Trish Hopkinson

Author: Trish Hopkinson

PublisherLithic Press
Publication date: 2017

Waiting Around by Trish Hopkinson
                         after "Walking Around" by Pablo Neruda

It so happens, I am tired of being a woman.
And it happens while I wait for my children to grow
into the burning licks of adulthood. The streaks
of summer sun have gone,

drained between gaps into gutters,
and the ink-smell of report cards and recipe boxes
cringes me into corners. Still I would be satisfied
if I could draw from language
the banquet of poets.

If I could salvage the space in time
for thought and collect it
like a souvenir. I can no longer
be timid and quiet, breathless

and withdrawn.
I can’t salve the silence.
I can’t be this vineyard
to be bottled, corked,
cellared, and shelved.

That’s why the year-end gapes with pointed teeth,
growls at my crow’s feet, and gravels into my throat.
It claws its way through the edges of an age
I never planned to reach

and diffuses my life into dullness—
workout rooms and nail salons,
bleach-white sheets on clotheslines,
and treacherous photographs of younger me
at barbecues and birthday parties.

I wait. I hold still in my form-fitting camouflage.
I put on my strong suit and war paint lipstick
and I gamble on what’s expected.
And what to become. And how
to behave: mother, wife, brave.

originally appeared in Voicemail Poems
*   *   *   *   *

Author photo of Trish Hopkinson
photo credit: Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen

Trish Hopkinson has always loved words—in fact, her mother tells everyone she was born with a pen in her hand. A Pushcart nominated poet, she has been published in several anthologies and journals, including Stirring, Pretty Owl Poetry, and Chagrin River Review; and her third chapbook is forthcoming from Lithic Press in 2017. Hopkinson is co-founder of a regional poetry group, Rock Canyon Poets, and Editor-in-Chief of the group’s annual poetry anthology entitled Orogeny. She is a product director by profession and resides in Utah with her handsome husband and their two outstanding children. You can follow Hopkinson on her blog where she shares information on how to write, publish, and participate in the greater poetry community at

Author Facebook page:


Author blog:

*   *   *   *   *

While Trish Hopkinson and I have not met in real life, we are involved in a number online communities together. I'm glad I had the chance to interview her about her most recent collection.

—Nancy Chen Long

[This interview was originally published on my blog.]

*   *   *   *   *

Please tell us a little bit about Footnote.

TH: Footnote is my first official chapbook published by a real press! It’s a collection of response poems as homage to some of my favorite artists. Most of the poems have been published in literary magazines over the last few years, and I’m honored to have them all put together in such a striking way by Lithic Press.

How did you arrive at the title?

TH: Originally, the title was the same as the final poem “Footnote to a Footnote.” When Lithic began working on a design for the cover, they suggested simply Footnote, which was perfect, since each poem in the collection indeed includes a footnote in reference to the original artwork that inspired the poem.

You mentioned that your chapbook contains response poems—poems inspired by other artists, whether poets, writers, or filmmakers. When you brought up “by other artists,” the first thing I thought of was ekphrastic poetry. While the common understanding of ekphrasis is poetry in response to visual art, in a 2008 essay “Notes on Ekphrasis” by Alfred Corn, he mentions that poetry in response to “works of music, cinema, or choreography might also qualify as instances of ekphrasis.” Do you consider some of the poems in Footnote to be ekphrastic?

TH: While I think that most of these poems are closer to the tradition of response poetry or found poetry, in which poems are written to respond to another text or artist’s work, I do think some of these poems are ekphrastic, specifically the poems in response to films. For example, “From Her to Eternity” is a poem that encompasses not only the story of the Win Wenders and Peter Handke’s film Wings of Desire but its origins in Rilke’s Duino Elegies—and even the soundtrack, with lyrics from Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s song as the title of the poem. There’s definitely some gray area within all of these definitions.

Tell us a bit about your writing process in forming a response. What techniques did you use? For example, did you write replies to a poem in a call and response sort of way, use a part of the poem as an epigraph, imitate or echo the forms of a poem, etc. “Waiting Around,” the poem at the beginning of this interview, is after Pablo Neruda. Tell us a bit about how the poem is “after” Neruda.

TH: “Waiting Around” is a great example of one way to approach response poetry. One way to respond to a poem is to write your own version from a different perspective, line by line or stanza by stanza. For “Waiting Around,” I responded line by line to Neruda’s poem “Walking Around” using a female speaker, rather than the original male speaker. Another one of my favorite approaches to found poems is to take the original poem, reverse the order of the lines (the last line first, the first line last), and then do an erasure. This technique has a tendency to reverse the meaning from the original to something opposing within the newly created poem. I used this technique in “Reconstructed Happiness,” which is in response to “I am Waiting” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. His original poem is quite somber, while the result of the erasure in reverse has an uplifting, empowering feel.

In a 2011 essay “Thinking Like an Editor: How to Order Your Poetry Manuscript,” April Ossmann writes “[T]he biggest mystery to emerging and sometimes even established poets is how to effectively order a poetry manuscript.” How did you order Footnote? Was it something you had in mind early in the writing process, for example or did you write the poems with a strategy in mind? What were some of your considerations?

TH: Honestly, I think selecting and ordering poems for a poetry book manuscript is the most challenging part of the process. These poems were written over a few years, and after teaching a community poetry writing workshop on response poetry, I realized I had quite a few response poems. So in this case, the collection was a surprise waiting for me in already completed work. I gathered them together, printed them out, and tried to order them in such a way that each poem connected in some way to the one that followed, while also paying attention to starting and ending with one of my favorite pieces. It never hurts to start strong and end strong. Once the collection was accepted by Lithic Press, there was some tweaking to the order to flow smoothly page wise (two-page poems on facing pages, etc.) and I swapped out a couple of the poems for stronger poems during the editing. It’s hardly an exact science, and the order of any collection will often be affected by the theme, style, variety of format, white space, and physical limitations of the book itself. I’ve ordered the poems for a few anthologies as Editor-in-Chief for Orogeny, and it’s interesting to see how poems from several different poets often connect into a final collection. That said, it’s never easy, but can be fun and surprising.

What is one of your favorite poems in the book, or one that is important to you? Why is it a favorite (or important)? How did it come to be?

TH: There are several poems in this collection that I love, mostly because they are a reflection of some other artwork that is important to me, but there is one that stands out and has a more personal meaning. “In a Room Made of Poetry” is a found poem based on the tradition of cento poetry and consists of several complete lines from Laura Hamblin’s book The Eyes of a Flounder. Hamblin is a dear friend and was one of my poetry professors during my undergrad at Utah Valley University. She introduced me to many of the poets featured in my book, including Neruda and Rilke, and her classes were where I learned so much about how to deeply appreciate not only the poetry of others, but other art as well. I was thrilled when Lithic chose a portion of this same poem as part of the cover design, which to me, became a dedication to her. The timing couldn’t have been better; she is retiring and teaching her last poetry class this summer when Footnote is being released.

In a Room Made of Poetry

Think how loss pulls language from us until
it swallows everything,
like undiagnosed cancer,
the accumulated past—
less eye, less mouth, less heart.
We had, not much—
thin coffee, thin socks. Here you can
wait, with desire, with
roots exposed
for an open womb. That heart-balm
as hope. The raw
bent—a bowl of fruit
in a language I never knew . . .
without tails, crosses of ts. The autonomous dot of a
blackness answers, There are only ifs.

Source: Hamblin, Laura. The Eyes of a Flounder.
(originally published in The Found Poetry Review: Issue 8)

Please tell us a bit about your use of found poetry in the chapbook.

TH: As a lover of all things words, found poetry is not just a way to respond to another text but it’s often word play as well. There are many different techniques that can be used to “find” a new poem in an existing text. I mentioned one above, erasure, which is also often referred to as “blackout poetry,” and even when doing an erasure, I often like to apply other methods to change it up a bit. Another fun approach is to sort the words by length and then create what’s called a “snowball” poem by ordering specifically selected words from shortest to longest. My poem “Strange Verses” employs this technique to create a set of reverse snowball poems from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The result was pretty cool—I ended up with four columns/stanzas that can be read in many different directions and angles.

The Found Poetry Review has this quote by Anne Dillard about found poetry:
By entering a found text as a poem, the poet doubles its context. The original meaning remains intact, but now it swings between two poles. The poet adds, or at any rate increases, the element of delight. This is an urban, youthful, ironic, cruising kind of poetry. It serves up whole texts, or interrupted fragments of texts.
 In the found poems in the chapbook, did you find yourself ‘doubling’ the original text’s context in one or more of them? If so how? If not, what relationship do you see between the original text and the poem(s)?

TH: I think so. The way I often describe this to others is as a “palimpsest,” in which the original text is erased/removed and a new text is written in its place while still leaving remnants of the original. In this sense, I think it is a form of doubling, or a way to contribute to the larger conversation in which we as writers participate. Response poetry is my way of communicating with both the original texts and the reader.

Sometimes, I nerd out on this whole poetry/writing thing a bit much and well, thinking through these responses resulted in my creation of this Venn diagram:

Found poetry venn diagram

I imagine the topics that you responded to varied widely. Even so, did you find yourself coming back to the same handful of themes, despite what it was you were responding to? I’m thinking of writer obsessions, perhaps in grand themes like love or death, or even images or words. For example, I’ve discovered, to my surprise, that dust, particles, dots, and related sorts of things pop up frequently in my writing. Tony Hoagland, in his book Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft (p82), wrote “In the work of a good poet, it is usually possible to discern one or two characteristic emotional zones in which he thrives: melancholy, rage, pity, vengeful rationality, seduction.” How did those obsessions reveal themselves to you? Did you find yourself surrendering to it? 

TH: Since this book was sort of a surprise collection based on the discovery that I tend to respond to other poets/art in my writing, the only other theme I think often emerges is one of feminism. I think that most of these poems reflect my feminist slant to poetry in general.

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

Most of the poems were previously published and felt finished. One that still felt incomplete was a Plath response poem entitled “Daddies.” I have reworked and reformatted the poem several times and toward the end of the editing process, I dug in hard and finally was able to revise the poem into what I feel is a finished state. (At least for now.) Once I sent that poem off, it did feel like the final edits were complete and the book was ready to be sent to print

What are you working on now?

TH: I’m aiming toward a full-length collection someday, but I feel like I need much more material before pulling together a new collection. I’ve tried piecing a few different projects together with poems I’ve written in the last couple of years, and there’s just not a nice, organic set making itself visible to me. Ultimately, I need to write many more poems to help my next collection materialize. Other than that, I’m always working on my poetry blog, which has become such an important part of my interaction with the larger poetry community. My blog was also a surprise and started as just a way to keep track of poetry resources, submission calls, etc. I started sharing it on social media and found there was definitely a need. Since October of 2014, my blog following has continued to grow and I’ve been honored by the turn out! It’s been a pleasure to interact with fellow poets, writers, editors, artists, etc. who are all looking for an easy way to access and share information. Sometimes, the things we never intend to create become the greatest of gifts.

Nancy Chen Long is a National Endowment of the Arts creative-writing fellow. She is the author of Light Into Bodies (Tampa University Press, forthcoming 2017), which won the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry, and Clouds as Inkblots for the Warprone (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013). You'll find her recent and forthcoming work in The Adroit Journal, Third Coast, The Southern Review, Ninth Letter, Alaska Quarterly Review, Pleiades, Zone 3, and elsewhere. Nancy received a BS in Electrical Engineering Technology and an MBA, worked as an electrical engineer, software consultant, and project manager, and more recently earned her MFA. As a volunteer for the local Writers Guild, she coordinates a reading series and works with other poets to offer poetry workshops. She lives in south-central Indiana and works at Indiana University.