Meet New Jasper Intern Christina Xan and Read About a Favorite Poet Cynthia Dewi Oka

"...language is not fixed and is always moving. We, as people, are continuously evolving, and our poetry does have to not stay stagnant." - Christina Xan

Hi! I’m Christina Xan, and I’m a new intern here at Jasper for the 2018-2019 year. I’m currently a grad student at USC working on my MA in Lit. When I’m not busy taking and teaching classes, which is essentially never, I’m quickly grasping for time to scribble down plays and poetry or to make a ruckus banging on my keyboard in my apartment. My favorite activities include screaming over how perfect my cats are to the point of getting noise complaints, wearing the same pair of jeans to paint in because they were *so* expensive but got ruined on the first day, and eating so many cupcakes and tacos in one sitting that I slide into a comatose state for at least a week.

Hi! I’m Christina Xan, and I’m a new intern here at Jasper for the 2018-2019 year. I’m currently a grad student at USC working on my MA in Lit. When I’m not busy taking and teaching classes, which is essentially never, I’m quickly grasping for time to scribble down plays and poetry or to make a ruckus banging on my keyboard in my apartment. My favorite activities include screaming over how perfect my cats are to the point of getting noise complaints, wearing the same pair of jeans to paint in because they were *so* expensive but got ruined on the first day, and eating so many cupcakes and tacos in one sitting that I slide into a comatose state for at least a week.

Cynthia Dewi Oka

 

I’ve been reading and writing poetry since I was a little girl, and when I was in undergrad, I still had time to fit in reading poetry especially since I was a creative writing minor. However, once the first year of my MA rolled around, my time for any reading outside of class dwindled, and by the end of that first year, I realized I hadn’t read one new book of poetry in pretty much the entire time I’d been in grad school. So, I dedicated the beginning of this past summer to getting back to it. One of the first poets I stumbled across was Cynthia Dewi Oka when she was featured on Poets.org. I find poets through their site all the time, and I usually add them to my list of “Poets to Keep an Eye On,” but when I read Oka’s poem on that site (it kills me that I can’t remember which one), I became completely and wholly entranced. I basically flew to Amazon and bought both of her books of poetry, a decision I have not regretted once.

 

Oka’s work is far from unappreciated; she is a three time Pushcart Nominee who has two published books of poetry: Nomad of Salt and Hard Water and Salvage. Something that drew me to her right away was that her first work, Nomad of Salt and Hard Water, has come out in two editions, each of which are, to some degree, different from one another – I love this. While containing the same poems for the most part, Oka took the time between the publications of her first and second editions to reflect on what she felt the first publication lacked, editing poems for the second edition as well as adding new ones. While some people may criticize Oka for going back and changing her already published poems, for me this is just a demonstration that language is not fixed and is always moving. We, as people, are continuously evolving, and our poetry does have to not stay stagnant.

"Particularly, when Oka says at the end that “to wake will not mean betrayal, to be lost will not mean goodbye” I felt that she was speaking to all of us who have to lock part of ourselves away, that it is a call to all of us to not fear the light of our own suns."

Although Oka’s poems may be everchanging, for me, Oka’s poems pretty much boil down to one thing: identity. I suppose that if you break any piece of writing down to one thing you could say that it’s identity, that we’re always writing about ourselves in a way to understand ourselves. However, there’s something special about Oka, the way she writes about our struggle to take broken pieces of our identities to form something recognizable, something we can, as her aptly titled second book is called, salvage. What’s wonderful about Oka is that while her poems can be very specific in audience, I believe anyone can relate to them. Many times she writes to and about minorities, and her poems both speak to them and to others, partially by teaching those of us who are not minorities about their struggle. However, whether you’re a minority that has suffered a fracturing of your identity by a culture you’ve been unable to fight against or you’re just a human being whose biggest enemy against your identity is, well, you, there’s a poem for you in Oka’s work. One of my favorite poems from Nomad called “Soothsayer” is a perfect example of this. This poem is painfully relevant, a poem for those who look for refuge in a country that is not their own. However, even though I’m not an immigrant, this poem speaks to me in a personal way. Particularly, when Oka says at the end that “to wake will not mean betrayal, to be lost will not mean goodbye” I felt that she was speaking to all of us who have to lock part of ourselves away, that it is a call to all of us to not fear the light of our own suns.

 

While the content of the poem is obviously exceptionally important, the structure of a poem is equally so. I personally really appreciate people playing with form, trying something new, and speaking to an audience not just from the way a poem sounds but the way it looks. Oka has a perfect balance with form – she is able to break boundaries without alienating her reader. A poem in Salvage that I’ve particularly fallen in love with is “Winter Country,” and it’s mainly because of the form. Oka does something wonderfully unique with this poem. In her books, most of the poems are aligned to the left margin. “Winter Country” is split into two parts. One half contains the title and the poem, aligned to the right margin, while on the left margin appears a separate part of the poem in a different form, not under the title, and in different ink, only relating to the same subject. By putting half of the poem in a faded grey ink just behind the rest, Oka makes it appear almost as if the poem is haunting itself, something I personally haven’t seen done before.

 

In the end, I’ve fallen in love with Oka. She has a way of touching me with her words that I don’t find easily these days. On the cover of Salvage, Joy Harjo writes, “We are in the thick of the sludge of salvage, in an age of greedy locusts…when visionaries are bound to emerge. Cynthia Dewi Oka is one of these visionaries, a word prophet,” and I think if you take a few moments to read any one of her poems, you’ll agree.

~~~~0~~~~

It's a great time to join or renew your membership in

The Jasper Guild!

We're raising money to pay for the publication of Jasper Magazine now!

Join today and get a free bottomless beer or wine cup at the Magazine Release Party on September 21st at Stormwater Studios!

And see your name in print in this issue of Jasper Magazine!

 

 

 

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Something like a review - Cassie Premo Steele's Tongues in Trees, poems 1994 - 2017

"... Coin by coin, drop your worth into the jar of your heart and feel the equity begin. You are not a commodity...."

from Trust, by Cassie Premo Steele

 

cassie tongues in trees.jpg

I’ve been enjoying spending some time the past week or so with Cassie Premo Steele’s newest collection of poetry, Tongues in Trees, poems 1994 – 2017, published by Unbound Content in 2017. I nabbed a copy from Cassie on First Thursday when Cassie, along with Randy Spencer, so generously read for Kathryn Van Aernum’s opening of Common Ground at Anastasia & Friends. Kathryn’s show will be up for the rest of August, by the way, if you missed this lovely look at the places where we put our feet on a daily basis.

Cassie’s collection is divided into three sections—1994-2004, 2006-2016, and 2017. I met Cassie during the second section of this book when she taught me two classes in the women’s and gender studies graduate certificate program at USC – theory and methods. It was an interesting experience to learn theory and methods from an instructor who was not a social scientist. My first two degrees were in sociology and sociologists live and die by theory and methods. The scientific method validates our work when novices want to compare our work to the findings of Oprah. I was all about the N.

But one of the things Cassie taught me was that there are other important ways to validate reality in addition to statistical significance. And her point was well taken. Just because a person’s reality does not reside within the safe neighborhood of the majority does not negate their reality. Of course, I knew this already but her way of reminding me this, after the fully immersive experience of being a survey research wonk, changed my world. And I thank her for that.

 

Cassie Premo Steele (photo by Suzanne Kappler)   

Cassie Premo Steele (photo by Suzanne Kappler)

 

In reading Cassie’s collection, I’ve become aware of how much the author’s world has also changed in the time I’ve known her. Without going into personal details, Cassie’s paradigm shifted in several ways over the course of our friendship. And it shifted beautifully to a place of fulfillment and authenticity. Her collection of poems and their shifting persuasions are elegantly emblematic of her growth as a scholar, an artist, and a human being. The nature of this book continues to teach me (remind me) about the importance of fluidity, of being in the moment, of keeping my feet close to the ground but still floating gently enough above it that I can still move easily and purposefully, exploring places and realities from many perspectives, even the most lonely and quiet.

I don’t know how to thank this poet, this friend, for such an important and powerful lesson.

But I can share with you my favorite poem from this lovely collection which is, probably not coincidentally, the next to last poem in the book. This poem tells me that patience should not be so exalted that it becomes a bog of our best intentions, and it reminds me once again that constructs, when they are first born, are made of wishes and fumes. We add the bricks and mortar. And we can tear them down. - CB

 

World

By Cassie Premo Steele

 

I see your boots by the bed and I shed years of straightening

up not sitting till it was right the spoon out of the sink the towel

on the rack the peanut butter capped the coat in the closet the plants

watered and animals fed but none of this straightened me so I threw

spoons until a visitor came and it was you and we threw towels

on the floor ate everything with our fingers took boxes from the

closet and let a spring come up to feed and water the world.

 

~~O~~

www.cassiepremosteele.com

 

Cindi Boiter is the founder and executive director of The Jasper Project and the editor of Jasper Magazine.

 

The Jasper Project is a non-profit all-volunteer organization that provides collaborative arts engineering for all disciplines of arts and artists in the South Carolina Midlands and throughout the state. Please help us continue to meet our mission of validating the cultural contributions of all artists and growing community within the arts by becoming a member of the Jasper Guild .  We'll print your name in the magazine, thank you on social media, and love you forever!

www.JasperProject.org

 

 

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - today Featuring Al Black

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

 

Today's poem comes to us from Al Black.

 

Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

 

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

 

A Hoosier in the land of cotton, Al Black was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana.  He has been married 46 years to Carol Agnew Black; they have four grown children and six grandchildren.  Black began writing verse at age nine, but kept his poems strictly to himself. In late 2008, he moved to South Carolina so his wife could accept a job as a professor of Sociology. Unemployed for the first time and free from family and community expectations, he publicly shared his first poetry eight years ago.  Black is co-founder of Poets Respond to Race and hosts several poetry and music events in Columbia, SC; he considers himself a northern born Southern poet because it was here in the South that he felt free to blossom.


 

Al Black

Al Black

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today Featuring Eric Bargeron

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

 

Today's poem comes to us from Eric Bargeron --

 

spring song 

 

the green of Jesus

is breaking the ground

and the sweet

smell of delicious Jesus

is opening the house and

the dance of Jesus music

has hold of the air and

the world is turning

in the body of Jesus and

the future is possible

 

Lucille Clifton, "spring song" from The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright 

Eric Bargeron

Eric Bargeron

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today Featuring Aida Rogers

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

 

Today's poem comes to us from Aida Rogers and here's what she says about it -- 

Here's one my grandmother would read to us. I didn't quite understand it, but the part about Little Bridget under the lake would just freak me out. Plus, what could sound more delicious to your ear and shivery up your spine and more adventurous in life than traveling "up an airy mountain and down the rushy glen"?

 

 

William Allingham (1824-1889)

          The Fairies

    UP the airy mountain, 
        Down the rushy glen, 
    We daren't go a-hunting
        For fear of little men; 
    Wee folk, good folk, 
        Trooping all together; 
    Green jacket, red cap, 
        And a white owl's feather!

    Down along the rocky shore
        Some make their home, 
    They live on crispy pancakes
        Of yellow tide-foam; 
    Some in the reeds
        Of the black mountain lake, 
    With frogs for their watch-dogs, 
        All night awake.

    High on the hill-top
        The old King sits; 
    He is now so old and gray
        He's nigh lost his wits. 
    With a bridge of white mist
        Columbkill he crosses, 
    On his stately journeys
        From Slieveleague to Rosses; 
    Or going up with music
        On cold starry nights, 
    To sup with the Queen
        Of the gay Northern Lights.

    They stole little Bridget
        For seven years long; 
    When she came down again
        Her friends were all gone. 
    They took her lightly back, 
        Between the night and morrow, 
    They thought that she was fast asleep, 
        But she was dead with sorrow. 
    They have kept her ever since
        Deep within the lake, 
    On a bed of flag-leaves, 
        Watching till she wake.

    By the craggy hill-side, 
        Through the mosses bare, 
    They have planted thorn-trees
        For pleasure here and there. 
    Is any man so daring
        As dig them up in spite, 
    He shall find their sharpest thorns
        In his bed at night.

    Up the airy mountain, 
        Down the rushy glen, 
    We daren't go a-hunting
        For fear of little men; 
    Wee folk, good folk, 
        Trooping all together; 
    Green jacket, red cap, 
        And a white owl's feather!

 

 

Aïda Rogers is a writer in Columbia who unfashionably likes poems that rhyme. She is the editor of the anthology series State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love. Volume 3 will be released in August by USC Press.

 

Aida Rogers

Aida Rogers

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today Featuring Michael Dowdy

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

Michael Dowdy shares one of his favorite poems with us today --

 

If “El Fruto” (The Fruit) is a Garden of Eden poem, in the voice of Eve, it is one in which the Chicano (Mexican-American) poet Juan Felipe Herrera paints that biblical world as strange, sensuous, effervescent, fleshy and feverish, terrible and joyous. But it’s the last line that jabs me in the ribs, for there we fall into our 21st-century predicament, where god isn’t Old Testament or New but a superrich CEO who tempts with the “delicate voice” of dollar bills.

 

El Fruto

 

The apple wasn’t our true origin.

The tree, well, it offered its own brand of shade.

The parrot, can you see him? The witness of this account.

We had just come back from the Serpent Café, rebellious.

We had just washed in black light & oyster sauce.

Our fragrance was of sex, lemon rind and coral.

He mentioned the brutalities of the heavens.

I pointed to the blistered boulevards, the musicians

in stoic delight, their gaping violin wounds.

He mentioned the ecstasy beneath his blonde ribs.

I turned away, called my sisters, Tara, Queen of Illusion,

Mayahuel, Goddess of Dark Jazz Nectars. Then

a delicate voice flashed from above, it ripped away

the milk from my lips, the wine from his eyes.

It was King Executive, Demi-god of the New Business.

 

 

 

Michael Dowdy  is the author of  Urbilly,  winner of the 2017 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, and  Broken Souths: Latina/o Poetic Responses to Neoliberalism and Globalization, a study of Latina/o poetry . With the poet Claudia Rankine, he is coediting the forthcoming anthology,  American Poets in the 21st Century: Poetics of Social Engagemen t (Wesleyan University Press, 2018). Originally from Blacksburg, Virginia, he teaches at the University of South Carolina.

Michael Dowdy is the author of Urbilly, winner of the 2017 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, and Broken Souths: Latina/o Poetic Responses to Neoliberalism and Globalization, a study of Latina/o poetry. With the poet Claudia Rankine, he is coediting the forthcoming anthology, American Poets in the 21st Century: Poetics of Social Engagement (Wesleyan University Press, 2018). Originally from Blacksburg, Virginia, he teaches at the University of South Carolina.

Columbia's Favorite Poetry, Today Featuring Ed Madden

"It’s about who you are inside, but also about how the good and authentic version of who you are helps you to live ethically in the world."  

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

Today, we feature Ed Madden.

 

~~~

 

When I think about a poet and a poem that has always spoken to me, always drawn me and haunted me, I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins and “As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame.” There’s something about Hopkins that feels uncannily personal to me and sometimes resistant to the ways I summarize and explicate and parse in the classroom. I don’t teach Hopkins often, and when I do I find myself getting effusive—about the quirky prayer of praise for the particular and the peculiar in “Pied Beauty,” orr about his desperately exuberant exploded sonnet of theology “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection.“ Or the poem To what serves mortal beauty,” in which he insists that beauty draws us to the things of this world and thus to the divine, but beauty (he is especially troubled by the beauty of young men) can also become an end rather than a means, may distract rather than instruct. Or I get lost in all those haunting sonnets of melancholy, the writer desperate to be faithful but crushed by darkness and deep depression.

 

I love Hopkins. A quirky writer, driven by sound (sometimes at the expense of sense) and given to idiosyncratic rhythms and syntax. A closeted gay man, repressed and depressed in a religious culture to which he devoted his life. Later, stuck in Ireland as a college teacher and overwhelmed by all the exams he had to grade. Deeply religious, but also deeply in love with the natural world, which is, he thinks—which must be—a revelation of the divine. He wrote in a meditation, “All things therefore are charged with love, are charged with God, and, if we know how to touch them, give off sparks and take fire, yield drops and flow, ring and tell of him.” Several years ago, I participated in a spiritual development retreat at the Lutheran seminary, reading and discussing Hopkins with the seminarians. I felt both out of place and absolutely at home there. Like being in a Hopkins poem.

 

Of all of his poems, it is “As kingfishers catch fire” that I find myself returning to again and again. The syntax is quirky, and the poem is filled with the kind of sonic density I admire in his work (and try, sometimes, to emulate in my own). It is a poem about the beauty of the world, but even more about how the flame of the divine flares most when we embrace our particularity, our singularity, when we live what we were meant to be. Like a bell that sings out its self, its name, so each of us must live out our own authenticities. (The fact that the poem is hard to read aloud just further emphasizes for me the particularities of sound and self.)  Hopkins even makes up a verb: selves. “What I do is me:” he writes, “for that I came.”

 

This “what I do is me” is not the tolerant you-do-you we hear in contemporary culture, not “do what you think is best for you.” It’s about who you are inside, but also about how the good and authentic version of who you are helps you to live ethically in the world. “The just man justices,” Hopkins writes, again making up a verb, suggesting not that we are what we do, but that we do who we are. If we are just, we live justice. And who we are is both us and more than us. What I do is me.

 

That’s the octave, the first part of the sonnet where the writer sets the scene, makes a proposition, states the terms. Then the volta, the turn, and the shorter and tighter sestet draws conclusions, moves toward some resolution. For Hopkins, after his little idiosyncratic sermon about selving, he takes an almost-orthodox turn. The just man acts Christlike—or in Hopkins’s quirky phrasing, “Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is – / Christ.” But he pushes on: Christ may be the model for who we can be or what we can do, but Christ is already present in all of us, in lovely limbs and lovely eyes and in faces that aren’t his. It’s not piety or strict adherence to some doctrine or other; it’s not work, it’s play. Christ—whether you read that as the Christian deity or as a figure for our better selves—plays in ten thousand places, and shines through the features of men’s faces. I know, of course, he means the play of a flame, but a good poet can be a punster, and Hopkins wants to say that this is play, not work.

 

Or it should be play. “All things are charged with love,” as he writes elsewhere, charged with God. If only we knew how to touch, how to see and apprehend, they would take fire—like the blue flash of a kingfisher’s wing—flow through, ring out. So he wants to teach us how to see, a lesson found in the last word of the poem: faces. The rhyme places-faces locates the divine in the faces around us. In the other. There is something deeply human (and humanist) and deeply ethical about this theology, and every rhyme in this quirky little meditation confirms the poet’s argument. The flame of the divine—the good, the true, the authentic—is your name, it’s why you’re here. Justice may be what he is, but grace shines in places and faces not his (not His).

 

Though I left the strict church of my youth and now find myself among the unaffiliated Nones, I remain deeply compelled by this poem. It could be my daily meditation, my daily prayer: What I do is me, for this I came. Like the flash of a kingfisher’s iridescence, the divine (the good, the just, the true, the authentic, the ethical) may shine in all of us. Like the bell that rings out its own name, each of us can sing the song we were meant to be. And if only we could recognize the holiness of one another, this could be a world of grace and, yes, justice.

 

Look around you, he says. The world is on fire with love. And God shines in the face of everyone you meet. If only we could learn how to see it.

 

That’s fucking beautiful.

 

 

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; 

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells 

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's 

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; 

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; 

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, 

Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came. 

 

I say móre: the just man justices; 

Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces; 

Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is — 

Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places, 

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his 

To the Father through the features of men's faces. 

 

Ed Madden is the author of several books of poetry. He is the poet laureate for the city of Columbia, the poetry editor for Jasper Magazine and Muddy Ford Press, and the director of the Women's and Gender Studies program at USC.
 
Ed Madden

Ed Madden

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today Featuring Sheila Morris

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

 

Today we're featuring Sheila Morris's favorite poem, Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto VI, [My Native Land] by Sir Walter Scott

My dad loved poetry and recited this poem and countless others from The Best Loved Poems of the American People, his favorite book, when I was very young. He carried his Bible to church every Sunday, but he read poetry the other six days of the week.
 

 Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto VI

 

   Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,

Who never to himself hath said,

   This is my own, my native land!

Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,

As home his footsteps he hath turn’d

   From wandering on a foreign strand!

If such there breathe, go, mark him well;

For him no Minstrel raptures swell;

High though his titles, proud his name,

Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;—

Despite those titles, power, and pelf,

The wretch, concentred all in self,

Living, shall forfeit fair renown,

And, doubly dying, shall go down

To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,

Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.

 

Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is the editor of Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement published in 2017 by the University of South Carolina Press.

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today featuring Susan Lenz

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

 

The reason I like Trees by Joyce Kilmer:
My second grade class presented a special, springtime play, The Wizard of Oz.  I was not selected for a speaking part. I was to stand in the background in a green pillowcase with green crepe paper attached to my arms (and the ink ran).  I was a tree, not even a tree that got to throw an apple at Dorothy, just a plain-old-boring-tree-standing-still.  I hated everything about it until the day of the performance.  My mother took me aside and recited Trees by Joyce Kilmer.  She then put me back in line to enter the stage and snapped a photo of me, smiling.  The poem saved the day. It was alright to be a tree.
PS  Since then, trees are pretty special too!   

 

Trees

 

I think that I shall never see 

A poem lovely as a tree. 

 

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest 

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast; 

 

A tree that looks at God all day, 

And lifts her leafy arms to pray; 

 

A tree that may in Summer wear 

A nest of robins in her hair; 

 

Upon whose bosom snow has lain; 

Who intimately lives with rain. 

 

Poems are made by fools like me, 

But only God can make a tree.

Susan is an internationally renown fiber and installation artist based out of Columbia, SC.
 
Susan Lenz in tree costume - center

Susan Lenz in tree costume - center

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today featuring Larry Hembree

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

national poetry month.jpg

 

My favorite poet is Hafiz.  c. 1320 to 1389, a beautiful, mystic, Sufi poet from Persia. I heard his work for the first time when I was in a little village in an ashram in India in the late ‘90s.
Hearing his poems makes my cry.

 

 

At This Party

(Translated from Persian)


I don't want to be the only one here

Telling all the secrets -


Filling up all the bowls at this party,

Taking all the laughs.


I would like you

To start putting things on the table

That can also feed the soul

The way I do.


That way

We can invite


A hell of a lot more

        Friends.

 

Formerly of Trustus Theatre, the Nickelodeon, Columbia City Ballet, the SC Arts Commission, The Jasper Project, and the Kershaw County Fine Arts Center, Larry is currently the development director for Columbia Children’s Theatre.
 
Larry Hembree

Larry Hembree

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today, Featuring Nicola Waldron

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

 

Today we're featuring Nicola Waldron's favorite poem by Wendell Berry-

I think of this poem as the anti-panic. Berry reminds us that the natural world offers us confirmation of the constant existence of uncomplicated beauty and a model of the power of slowing down. When I feel overwhelmed, I can read this and feel as if I’ve actually been out in nature. If you read this aloud, it will actually help you breathe. Try it!

 

 The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

 

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

Nicola Waldron is a writer-mother-teacher and would-be hermit, who tries to operate out in the human world as a bold truth-speaker, while maintaining an internal, prayerful kind of howling.
 
Nicola Waldron

Nicola Waldron

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today, Featuring Abstract Alexandra

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

~~

Today we feature a Columbia-based visual artist who goes by the moniker Abstract Alexandra.

 

One of my favorite poems by Dorothy Parker represents, to me, an understanding of pure sadness due to the walls of poverty that force creatives into a life of unhappiness. That was the pain I felt having to leave school. Alone in the world, with no one to care. Giving up dreams of creating wonderful beauty and expression due to poverty is heartbreakingly painful.

 

 

A dream lies dead here.

By Dorothy Parker

A dream lies dead here.

May you softly go 

Before this place, and turn away your eyes, 

Nor seek to know the look of that which dies 

Importuning Life for life. Walk not in woe, 

But, for a little, let your step be slow. 

And, of your mercy, be not sweetly wise 

With words of hope and Spring and tenderer skies. 

A dream lies dead; and this all mourners know: 

Whenever one drifted petal leaves the tree- 

Though white of bloom as it had been before 

And proudly waitful of fecundity- 

One little loveliness can be no more; 

And so must Beauty bow her imperfect head 

Because a dream has joined the wistful dead!

 

Abstract Alexandra is a visual artist.
Abstract Alexandra

Abstract Alexandra

Columbia's Favorite Poetry - Today, featuring Tim Conroy

curl your toes/ into the grass/

national poetry month.jpg

In celebration of National Poetry Month the Jasper Project invited several artists, writers, and leaders in the Columbia arts community to share with us their favorite poems and most of them generously accepted.

We’ve put together this collection of our favorite poems and will be sharing them with you, poem by poem, day by day, over the month of April. Some of the poems are old and traditional, others are new and inventive. Some are whimsical, others are insightful. Some rhyme. Some don’t.

What they all have in common is that someone you know loves that poem – and this gives us such lovely insight into the soul of our community.

Thank you to everyone who shared their poetry with us.

And Happy National Poetry Month from Jasper.

~~

Today, we're featuring poet Tim Conroy.

~~

 

My favorite poem is Thank You by Ross Gay.  I love poetry that reminds us of our frailty and insignificance and meanwhile calls us to be grateful. 

 

Thank You

BY ROSS GAY

 

If you find yourself half naked

and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,

again, the earth's great, sonorous moan that says

you are the air of the now and gone, that says

all you love will turn to dust,

and will meet you there, do not

raise your fist. Do not raise

your small voice against it. And do not

take cover. Instead, curl your toes

into the grass, watch the cloud

ascending from your lips. Walk

through the garden's dormant splendor.

Say only, thank you.

Thank you.

 

Tim Conroy is a Columbia-based poet, retired educator, and a founding board member of the Pat Conroy Literary Center. He is the author of Theologies of Terrain published in 2017 by Muddy Ford Press.

 

 

 

Tim Conroy

Tim Conroy

Two Reviews of the Same Book - Secondhand, by Maya Marshall (dancing girl press, 2016)

In Secondhand, Maya Marshall invites us to examine the everyday intimacies that our bodies share with strangers through the lens of the secondhand item. She shines light on the way in which we (are forced to) carve sensual moments out of the remnants of someone else’s similar moments.

One such instance is the opening poem, “Dressing Room: Thrift Store,” in which someone is trying on a blue slip: “…you think you/ Can sew the tear and how slick the blue slip will be/ between you and your sheets.” Marshall forces the reader to acknowledge that desire is not only as old as history and memory, but is equally used and well-worn.

“Secondhand Lingerie” expands on this theme by evoking the images of domesticity. We witness women in possession of “a black nightie/ to upcycle into passion/ after another night of chicken/ and pasta.” Marshall does not shy away from the fact that sex and its trappings are tied to both race and class and gender. If the speak bucks at the suggestion that same-sex attraction is a “phase” in the poem “Lust,” then that idea is deepened by the much more intimate lines of “Someone Borrowed”: “a girl will send you home/ in clean panties of her own.” This echoing across poems, the thrifted and reused, permeates the first section of the chapbook, “The Dressing Room.”

These echoes take on more depth in the second half, “What is Handed Down.” Here we read poems of the family and the question of what can be given, exchanged, or inherited takes on additional weight.  

In “My Father’s House,” Marshall plays with language, deconstructing the idea of family only to reassemble it, much as one might repair a blue slip, using newer parts as seen in “The Youngest: Addendum.” Here the speaker states: “I watched him breastfeed at my mother’s table./ His mother, mistress, feeding him at my mother mother’s table.” Relationships, roles, even family structure can be secondhand.

The reusing, the repair, the handing down both changes the object and the speaker and, yet, changes nothing about the nature of intimacy itself. Nothing but a miracle could spare the speaker – or the reader – from the cycle of want and use, but as Marshall writes “Grace is cheaper than a miracle.”

-Nicole Homer

Nicole Homer’s debut poetry collection, Pecking Order, will be out spring of 2017 on Write Bloody press.

 

~~*~~

 

The poems in Maya Marshall's slim chapbook, Secondhand, are arranged in two groups, Dressing Room and What Is Handed Down.

Opening in Dressing Room we consider poems operating in a psychic space of privacy, intimacy. This is self-facing clothing that cherishes those aspects of our bodies which relate to - or create - other bodies. Marshall's words thread together into a network of organized ambiguities (like the mesh and lace of some of the garments referenced in the poems).

The reader becomes more aware of the intimacy Marshall has created when sharp violent moments arrive. Momentary violence roots the poems in reality. In “Port of Entry,” Marshall unfolds a series of images which masterfully engage the reader's imagination.

The last poem in this group, “Someone Borrowed,” is the most concrete, acting as a hinge for the collection. Marshall pulls us into a new zone for self-identity (mirrored with lover). The poems’ internal rhythmic repetitions echo other poems in the group, but this poem's hardness, its 'broken-piece' structure, and its question of self give it a handle that I come back to after finishing the last poem in the book.

“What is Handed Down” brings us to the locus of inheritance. Now intimacy is not chosen, but instead was given to (forced upon?) us - by the culture (American Girl Movies) by the father or mother chosen for us, our siblings. Here the language becomes more direct (The Youngest: Addendum) as the body is direct. The relatedness describes lives in exchanges of language, instead of gestures (Baptism). Marshall has arranged this series of poems along a continuum of self-perceiving-self-and other, from the imagined to the embodied, with remarkable subtlety and control. I look forward to reconsidering these poems in the future, and reading her next work.

-Jessica Fenlon

Jessica Fenlon is developing code-based projection sculpture for her March 2017 gallery show. Her second book of poetry, Manual for Wayward Angels, arrived in February of 2017 from 6 Gallery Press.

 

~~*~~

 

Someone Borrowed      

 

           Think of the hands that have touched this cotton.

           What wisdom do you get from hunger?

________

Note:   You are a woman loosed.

________

            Naked over her panties,

            I consider how

            a girl will send a girl home

            in clean panties of her own.

 

            I took the bus with my underwear

            in my pocket.

________

Note:    When you write about a black woman

            lusting after

            a black woman,

            You write about a ghost chasing

            herselfherself

________

            I took the bus

________

            There is desire and

            Shame and relief

            In this story, (though

            It isn’t yet

            Fully a story (where

Is the middle?) She runs

Her nails down my thigh:

Denim resists),

But there is no healing touch.

(She howls out, yes. It is her performance.)

________

Note:    when you write about this borrowed woman,

you write about a woman who sells herself—

                Punishment for some sin she can’t identify.

________

                I consider how I took the bus

                with no panties on,

                                                to a borrowed room.

I took the bus naked over her

                                naked over

                her panties.

A queer question: am I into myself?

                (Is it me?) Is she myself?

 

~~*~~

To purchase Secondhand by Maya Marshall contact the author at mayamarshallpoetry@gmail.com

Or the publisher at https://dulcetshop.myshopify.com/products/secondhand-maya-marshall