You Can Pre-Order My Book, Rodeo in Reverse

Cover of Rodeo in Reverse, now available for pre-order

My debut poetry collection, Rodeo in Reverse, is available for pre-order.

Cover art for Rodeo in Reverse, debut poetry collection

Billy Renkl created the collage for the cover, and Kate Arden McMullen designed this beaut. Isn’t it totally dreamy? When Kate sent it, I sent her a professional email back asking her to marry me. I know the cliché “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but I hate clichés, don’t you? Please judge my book by its cover.

In case you’re curious about the inside, though, if you like collage, I think you’ll like this book of poems. Here are a few endorsements:

When Sean Hill, author of Dangerous Goods, selected Rodeo in Reverse as the winner for the New Southern Voices Poetry Prize, he called it “the genuine article.”

When my sister shared it on Facebook, she said, “Not only will it be a great read (duh), it’ll make my coffee table look damn fancy .”

In the words of poet Marianne Boruch, author of The Book of Hours and Cadaver, Speak:

Abe Lincoln, Patty Hearst, Van Gogh, Mary Magdalene, Sonny and Cher, Buddha’s wife, Axl Rose, Bad Me/Good Me—all are radiant presences in this remarkable collection made of quirky, sudden shifts of observation and wise insight that enlarge the world. ‘Dog that won’t stop barking and all I can think:/ I don’t know anything about stars,’ the poet tells us. But history’s dark is here too, love’s humor and reason, a band on the radio not ‘holding grudges’ for once. My bet is you’ve never read poems like these: such surprise, curiosity, and wise-guy delight, such heart and—yes!—soul. Treasure this work. And this poet.

Pre-order it here.

If you want to stay updated on Rodeo in Reverse, sign up for my monthly newsletter, get my editing tips and thoughts on the creative process, and read my favorite poems.

Want to know how I landed on the title? Click here.

*In all seriousness, having writers and people I admire so much endorse this book, make this book, and edit this book, and friends who, before there was any telling it would ever be a book, offered all kinds of help and encouragement, is making for one of the most humbling experiences in my life. I’m grateful beyond measure.

Poems I’ve Loved This Month: November 2017

Tulip poplar in full fall color: golden

“The Glass Essay” by Anne Carson.

“One way to put off loneliness is to interpose God.”

Corey Van Landingham posted this poem on Facebook. Like everyone else, I’m a fan of Anne Carson’s work — except I hadn’t read this one. It’s long and worth being long. I am glad I did not read it before writing my first book or else there would have been no first book to write.

In it, Carson’s speaker weaves together a biography of Emily Bronte, a trip to the moors with her elderly mother, and the time spent in heartbreak. To oversimplify, this is a break up poem. It’s also an ars poetica. Why do some people get hurt? Why do some people observe? Why become an artist? Why become angry?

Or, as the poem puts it: “What is prior? // What is love? / My questions were not original. / Nor did I answer them.”

And it’s these questions, unoriginal but essential, that map themselves onto the moors for the speaker, the curtains her mother wishes she’d draw, the “glimpses… of soul” the speaker comes to call “Nudes,” the idea of Bronte’s idea of God, the characters of Wuthering Heights, sexuality.

It was about this time
I began telling Dr. Haw

about the Nudes. She said,
When you see these horrible images why do you stay with them?
Why keep watching? Why not

go away? I was amazed.
Go away where? I said.
This still seems to me a good question.

Why keep watching?
Some people watch, that’s all I can say.
There is nowhere else to go,

no ledge to climb up to.
Perhaps I can explain this to her if I wait for the right moment,
as with a very difficult sister.

‘On that mind time and experience alone could work:
to the influence of other intellects it was not amenable,’
wrote Charlotte of Emily.

The word “question” is repeated 12 times in the poem; the word “Nude” 25 times. There are 54 question marks. No answers in the poem, but glimpses of soul; the images those soul-pieces project themselves onto.

And in all of this, the self-indictment, the hurt feelings, the cold confusion of loving and no longer being loved. The line Corey quoted:

Perhaps the hardest thing about losing a lover is / to watch the year repeat its days.

Seriously. This one. Read it.

(Also Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite books and one of the few novels I’ve re-read.)

From “Oil” by Fatimah Asghar.*

We got sent home early
& no one knew why. I think we

are at war! I yelled to my sister
knapsacks ringing

against our backs. I copy
-catted from Frances

who whispered it when the teachers
got silent. Can’t blame

me for taking a good idea.
I collect words where I find them.

Read this poem on the Poetry website to see it in its true form (which I was unable to achieve here), or in the print edition (November issue). I think print actually enhances it a bit — all the white space, a full page, around each part presented in its glorious quiet, the threat and suffocation of the quiet, the whispering “bombbombbombbombbombbombbombbombbombbombbombbombbomb” into sheets as a child whose “people might / be Afghani” post-9/11. This narrative poem, about identity formation, agency, and the collection of words, what one person can accumulate over a lifetime or in mere weeks, how the speaker scavenges for words, “know[s] that word’s not meant for [them] but [they] collect words / where [they] find them.”

This poem is a lesson in narrative poetry — how to hook with clarity and concision — and is the reason her book If They Come for Us is one I’m excited to read in 2018.

Rastros Corporales: Blood on Canvas: Ana Mendieta: 1982″ by Leslie Sainz^.

… it is near-game, this tracking of pulse and surplus/
when your country says give, you drain despite the clots.

I actually read this poem first a few months ago and have returned several times since: it holds so many mysteries, reading it is intoxicating. Poem as lure, me as fish. I felt not smart enough to talk about it then, and probably am not now, but if I wait until I am, I’ll never tell you about it, which would be a major loss for you.

Another ars poetica. This ekphrastic poem ironically reminds me of a watercolor because of its form — impressionistic, unassuming: a prose poem with line breaks hatched in, as one might write in a notebook. (See the art it takes as its subject here.) But the form is interesting because of the tension it creates with its subject: both the Ana Mendieta artifact (paintings made in a performance art piece in which slid her forearms down blank paper) from “Body Tracks” and the images the speaker shares.

As the title suggests, the corporal is central here — even the dice are “tooth-shaped.” But the speaker floats from body to body, an imagination more than a self (or the imagination is the self, the body is what’s imagined and experienced), the “you” she’s speaking to slippery — a beloved but what kind of beloved — the kind you’d paint a canvas with blood for, the kind who would bleed themselves for country “despite the clots” — a country, a mother, a lover, the reader? Why choose?

The genius of the poem — much of it in the syntax, the accumulation of meaning or allowance for different readings through commas and breaks — is how specific it is while letting in so many alternate realities — the speaker and the “you” transmorph into “dehydrated eels,” “polizia nacional rolling tooth-shaped dice,” from experience into image into sound.

In the past few years, poems in columns that can be read in different order for different meaning have come into vogue (and some are truly great), but here readers get many of these benefits in a sleeker shell; there is constraint and restraint, but it’s masked in a certain ease. More tension. Despite the slipperiness of image, of language, this speaker doesn’t let anything slip, even “blood on canvas” looks effortless without knowing the performance, the life, the politics that put it there. Factoring in not only the painting but Mendieta’s life as an artist, her death (a suicide, an accident, or a murder by her then-boyfriend and fellow artist), and the feminist response to all of the above, and “Body Tracks” and blood imbue meaning.

^I already told you all Leslie Sainz is a genius and saint. I meant it. Read her work now and say you knew it when.

“Woo Woo Roll Deep” by Angel Nafis.

… You can’t tell us
shit. We always down for the miracle.
The regular-as-fuck dawn making brand new
the farm of our hearts.

This poem is a joy. Reading it is a joy, it displays joy, howling it aloud is a joy. Calling or IMing your girlfriends about it is a joy. (And as Toi Derricotte says, “Joy is an act of resistance.”) Here, I mean joy in its fullest sense: that belly laugh heartbreak, the tattoo of dead lovers, the combination of unabashed support, astonishment, touch, and eyeroll that is female friendship. In the world of this poem, the police still kill citizens, but “A week after the 314th police killing this / year, Jenna mixes up a tincture…” Everyone reads their Chani Nicholas* horoscope and collates her affirmations with their upcoming periods. Walls are painted “miss-my-daddy red.” There’s tea and crystals and hopes for solutions and superstition and no guilt. As a proud-of-herself weirdo, I love other proud-of-themselves weirdos, of which this speaker is certainly one. I bow to the light in this poem. Woo woo.

*If you are not already, you really should probably be reading your horoscope from Chani Nicholas.

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Title Changes and Impostor Syndrome

Concrete donkey statue behind a wire fence.

Hi. My name is Lindsey Alexander, and I’m here today to talk about impostor syndrome.

In August, I found out that my manuscript, after seven years of work (and rejection), will be published with Hub City Press as a New Southern Voices Prize winner.

Once the prosecco wore off, I dove into revisions. I reworked, rewrote, and tinkered with poems, based on the suggestions of my editor, Leslie Sainz, who is brilliant and who should also be sainted. (Follow her so you can read her poems first.) The biggest suggestion was to change the title. Leslie sent 10 new potential titles, and then explained several that piqued my interest.

After much fretting, I sent back the manuscript revised, retaining the original title, which included the word “impostor,” and sounded like it belonged in a different genre. I hit send with a smug, comfortable satisfaction.

My publisher responded to (kindly) explain its reasoning for the change, in the way one might try to talk down a hissing cat from a tree, and at that moment I knew I had to kiss it goodbye. I emailed them that I understood and was ready to “come to Jesus.” And then I sent an immediate follow-up email to clarify, the hallmark of true confidence and sanity.

Meanwhile, instead of acknowledging to myself that I’d been wrong in trying to keep the title, I worked at convincing myself I’d been right. (As Kathryn Schulz writes, being wrong feels a lot like being right.) It took a while (and this in the Bible Belt) to find Jesus. I went for a long walk, fuming, certain my dog, who is a food mercenary, was the only one I could trust. It did not initially occur to me that (duh) my publisher wanted my book to sell well (likely sales matter more to them than to me). It did not initially occur to me that a team of smart people who were dedicating hours of their lives to sharing my work and who had read my book could understand its context, especially in the market, better than I did. No. I had selected the hill I was going to die on: Having the word “impostor” by my name on a cover. This is how overidentified I was with seeing myself as a phony. (I swear I must’ve read Catcher in the Rye too early in life.)

After an afternoon sulking, I was assuaged by a well-reasoned email from a friend, pointing out some of these fallacies. Oh, right, I had been granted a wonderful team, publication with a press I admired, and a big opportunity, and I wasn’t letting myself feel the glory of that gift.

I created word lists and theme lists and began creating titles I’m sure a bot could’ve come up with based on keywords from the manuscript. I conducted straw polls. Finally, a friend (fantastic writer Natalie van Hoose) with fresh eyes landed on Rodeo in Reverse. There it was: it had been between the manuscript and the word list and Leslie’s suggestions the whole time. I loved it. My publisher did too.

*

The only editorial work left was responding to a few new comments on the manuscript in a final round of revisions. A couple weeks later and I was receiving emails—you know the ones: polite, asking how a project was going, the kind from a kind person after you’ve missed or pushed a deadline.

Thing is: I was pretty much finished with revisions on the manuscript and had been for several days. At this point, I had a couple (just two) lingering small edits (whether to cut or retain a line, whether to add or leave out a short stanza), and in both cases I knew what I’d end up doing. I was creating false dilemmas for myself.

Chief among: searching phrases from my book to be sure they weren’t plagiarized. Taking small phrases and whole sentences and running them through Google, with quotes. If it didn’t return results, I’d look it up without quotes. If it did return a result—even a coincidental match on a random blog, I’d spin out, having proven to myself I was a fraud, not a real writer, much less a poet.

Which phrases was I searching? Any phrase I thought was good.

Why did I do this?

I felt uncomfortable. I mistook that discomfort for guilt, for having done something wrong, one of the grave sins of writing being plagiarism.

*

After some consideration, I recognized it for what it was: impostor syndrome.

I couldn’t be convinced I came up with anything good; therefore, if I like part of the book, it must be from somewhere, and someone, else.

I had insisted (gritting my teeth) on holding onto a title that my publisher felt it would be best to change. It had the word “impostor” in it.

Luckily, I’ve spent the last few months reading all the Brené Brown. (I don’t mean that as Internet speak. I mean I read all of it.) So I knew that “shame thrives in secret.” I needed to name it (impostor syndrome: done) and tell someone.

Being a good Millennial, I chose to share on Instagram Stories (which is private and only my really good friends and the occasional bored scroller would see), then after 24 hours it would disappear. Oddly, this medium mirrored the anxiety I was feeling: once named and shared, my shame (in this instance) no longer made sense.

Many friends reached out with an encouraging word—one even to say she’d had the same issue when she had a story accepted for publication at a Fancy Magazine.

Reading a section from Rising Strong helped me understand why I battle impostor syndrome in the first place: I have trouble accepting gifts—from others, from the universe. Like many women, it’s hard for me to accept even a compliment without reversing it thoughtlessly or mentioning where I got my dress for how cheap. A gift that’s a talent, unearned, an inkling honed into something bigger than the self—which I believe each one of us has—well, that’s nearly impossible to accept.

The thing about gratitude is, it isn’t hard to feel grateful once you allow yourself to feel joy, to accept goodness (including your own). But that means actually that gratitude is tough to access until it isn’t. Denying gifts isn’t a higher plane of maturity or understanding—it’s the road to ruin. Being kind to myself is oddly brave for me.

*

The title of my debut book, a poetry collection, is Rodeo in Reverse. I get to work with a caring, badass team of women to make it. I’m a writer and no more or less of an impostor than anyone else, which is to say, I’m human.

I wake every morning trying to lean into and learn from joy, to feel my gratitude. This means I am working on things like “being a hugger” and doing things like tearing up when I see my husband reading or thinking of how good my friends are. I say “I love you” to friends and acquaintances who are used to me not saying anything at all, or maybe “yeah, man.” I go to parks and sing with strangers at jams. (Okay, I did this once.) I thank the roof above my head for holding steady. I thank my stars for bringing me here. It’s the hardest and most embarrassing work I’ve done, and I don’t know where it will lead, but I trust it.

*

Have you ever experienced impostor syndrome? When? How were you able to turn the corner?

*

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Poems I’ve Loved This Month: October 2017

Blue Monochrome by Yves Klein, which is a canvas filled with an exact shade of ultramarine blue, 1961. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

“Indigo” by Ellen Bass.

This poem immediately struck me with the whoosh of needing to re-read—not because it’s overly complex or difficult to understand, but because of the simplicity of its narrative, the longing so many of us have for some other life, granted “it’s a miracle to have a life. Any life at all.” Desire for a tattooed dad turns into desire of a totally different sort (or maybe not a different sort at all, but the desire behind the desire, behind the cobweb and the window and its screen, the thing itself, outside and wild, but also suburban, typical, banal aching. I especially love the way she describes what sets this man apart—what his tattoos, which include the indigo of a title, represent to her:

“I want to have married a man who wanted
to be in a body, who wanted to live in it so much
that he marked it up like a book, underlining,
highlighting, writing in the margins, I was here.

Then there’s the title, kind of an Yves Klein monochrome print thing happening, “a kind of obsession,” as Bass might put it. I listened to an episode Abbi Jacobson’s podcast all about Klein’s work with ultramarine blue, how he was fascinated by it and wanted to exactly replicate it on canvas; he found it irresistible and mentioned wanting to “impregnate” viewers with the color. (Oh men.) Klein also composed “The Monotone Symphony,” which is about 20 minutes of an orchestra playing one note followed by about 20 minutes of silence. (Jacobson reveals this after a conversation with QuestLove about the B-flat quality he attributes to Klein’s Blue Monochrome.)

One great thing about language is how its user, like a musician, chooses to wield silence. What’s not in a poem often feels as present as what is. In “Indigo,” there’s a great transition, a turn toward the end, between the speaker/mother and her daughter:

“And now there’s everything that we can’t talk about.
We love—but cannot take
too much of each other.”

What the silence holds for this speaker can’t be kept silent.

I think of Bass and her indigo; despite the many things happening in this poem, doesn’t she offer a compelling monochrome print here, one moment washed in one color that transfixes? Within this indigo, there’s humor, dress shopping, jealousy, “radiance,” BBQ, “carnelian,” even the reds tinged blue. And oddly, like Klein’s ultramarine wish, the poem has much to do with pregnancy—literal and figurative, the speaker’s birth and her daughter’s birth and what comes to fruition in life.

I read recently that a beech tree puts out 1.8 million* beechnuts over the course of its lifetime and only one of those will grow to maturation. In one color, so many ways to strike the same note; what returns to us (repeat desires, images, conversations) returns tired and fresh, old and new, something borrowed, something blue.

*I originally had the incorrect number here.

“Sunshower” by Natalie Shapero.*

This poem contends with the devil we know.

In the midst of a barrage of sexual harassment and assault news, this poem is a beacon. Playing on the old wives’ tale explaining a sunshower (“Some people say the devil is beating / his wife”), the poem morphs the devil again and again into something less and less easy to distance ourselves from, making him both more familiar and more sinister.

This is a great example of a poem that deploys anaphora to build a poem’s complexity. It adds a sing-song musicality that lifts the folktale aspect up and undercuts the rhetoric we’ve all heard before while enhancing it and adding humor.

The anaphora may also point to the culprit; ultimately, the poem doesn’t end with the devil we call devil but with “some people … having a fair.”

“… Some people
say calm down; this is commonplace.
Some people say calm down;
this is very rare. Some people say
the sun is washing her face. Some
people say in Hell, they’re having a fair.”

“Nashville” by Tiana Clark.

At a concert I was at, the singer began with “This is a song about gentrification.” I could hardly keep my eyes from rolling out of my head; in my experience when a writer (of songs or of anything) has to tell you what something is about, it’s no bueno. But then that person wound up being Courtney Marie Andrews, and I’ve listened to her album Honest Life almost every day since.

“Nashville” begins as a poem about gentrification: what changes and what doesn’t. I’d say which history is lost, but this poem keeps history alive, refuses to bury it. It begins with Hot Chicken, which may seem trivial to non-Tennesseeans; but at a time when the South is conversely being identified with a stereotyped white Southerner and appropriated in culture (from dress to cuisine to music), Hot Chicken’s popularity is on the rise, and in this “farm-to-table” migration, it’s been whitewashed, not recalling:

“the history of Jefferson Street or Hell’s
Half Acre, north of downtown. Where freed slaves lived

on the fringe of Union camps, built their own new country.
Where its golden age brought the Silver Streak, a ballroom
bringing Basie, Ellington, and Fitzgerald.”

In the city’s recent boom, Clark razes the past, a brief racial history of Nashville, and the speaker’s more personal history, her great-grandmother Freelove, her grandmother Toy, and her husband being called an epithet in present day. This poem talks about what “bisects” the city, the speaker, and ultimately America: I-40, I-65, “the boomerang shape of the Niger River,” the white faces in a photo of a  black person being lynched. It explores the violence and violations of making lines and of redrawing and crossing them. Maybe the most amazing part of the poem is when the speaker imagines (or sees) the crossing of an uncrossable line—the past entering its future, the present, backwards through the lens:

“…black-and-white lynching photographs,
mute faces, red finger pointing up at my dead, some smiling,

some with hats and ties—all business, as one needlelike lady
is looking at the camera, as if looking through the camera, at me,
in the way I am looking at my lover now—halcyon and constant.”

The speaker “search[es] the OED for soot-covered roots” and yet the epithet hurled at her family from a passerby, a part of the Nashville scene, leaves her hunting, “the breath / of Apollo panting at the back of Daphne’s hair, chasing words”, rootless, “kissing all the trees,” what to ground her but history, her knowledge, maybe love, repeating “Who said it?

I’m grateful for this poem for a number of reasons, but particularly as a person relatively new to Tennessee (though I’ve been in “herds of squealing pink bachelorette parties” and had “sour to balance prismatic, flame-colored spice / for white people”) who knows little of its history and is learning how and where to look for it. Her work consistently teaches me this and so much else.

“Guerilla Theory” by Kien Lam.

“The largest primate in the world
is the white man’s ego.”

Simply put, I love this poem. It’s hard for me to talk about because it moves so quickly, deftly, shapeshifting imperceptibly until one recognizes a new name must enter in, more like clouds that look like monkeys than a gorilla. It’s form, the skinny single stanza, adds to this rush; its effect is a feeling of unstoppability. Once the first line is read, it’s as though something heavy’s been dropped down a chute.

As in Clark’s poem, Babel makes an appearance. “Guerilla Theory” deals in naming and how to name an identity, how to shape an identity when names have been stripped by “letters … dropped / out of bombers”, and maybe what remains of a person who has lost part of himself.

“… I saw
a monkey’s face when I looked
at a cloud, but my mother couldn’t
even make out the head. Someone
looked at a tree and called it a tree.
Someone else looked at a tree
and called it whatever the word
for tree is in Vietnamese,
which I don’t remember anymore.
And the word for that loss
is too big to fit into a single
word.”

Colonialism kills the ability to name, steals language, makes for a speaker “full / of holes and dormant landmines.” And despite the violence, despite the quicksilver movement of the mind at work in this poem, the quiet is what most moves me. It feels right that in a poem about absence quiet works so well; the ending the kind that makes me pay attention in the way a friend who doesn’t often interject catches my attention when he mumbles something; what sticks to the speaker at the end of this poem has stuck with me. I guess I’m Lavar Burton-ing you: Read it.

“The Moon and the Yew Tree” by Sylvia Plath.

This month I was able to spend a day at the Lilly Library at Indiana University where some of Plath’s manuscripts and artwork are archived. (More on this later.) One thing I especially enjoyed and made me think “Drats!” was that the stunner at the opening of this poem was always there and always the opener, at least in the drafts at Lilly: “This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.”

Though favorites change, this has often been my favorite of her poems.

Originally written in a huge monolith of a stanza, she drew brackets to create separate stanzas on the first draft (or maybe lacking paper she did this as she went). She reworked the final stanza the most; lots of abstraction (and Socrates) fell away. Eventually she cut a penultimate stanza. What I wrote in my notebook while there: “It seems she (like me & [I] imagine many others) best revises in a fury—not gradually over time, but more like triage.”

October 27th is her birthday. She would have been 85 this year. This month also saw the release of Volume 1 of her collected letters. I think of her as one of the best Scorpios, best being best of its kind: physical, sensual, sharp (as in smart and as in all elbows, unsparing), grudge-holding, and talented. I’m in the midst of an essay about her and Flannery O’Connor, so I’ll spare you my love letter for Plath and leave you instead with a Plath fact: she loved avocados and red lipstick.

“The Country of Marriage (Part V)” by Wendell Berry.

Yes, more Wendell Berry. This poem is the title poem of a most beautiful chapbook that I advise purchasing posthaste, unless I know you and you’re planning on getting married in the near future because then you will have spoiled my wedding gift to you.

I’ve just reprinted my favorite section (Part V) here:

V.

Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange
of my love and work for yours, so much for so much
of an expendable fund. We don’t know what its limits are—
that puts it in the dark. We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it.
Even an hour of love is a moral predicament, a blessing
a man may be hard up to be worthy of. He can only
accept it, as a plant accepts from all the bounty of the light
enough to live, and then accepts the dark,
passing unencumbered back to the earth, as I
have fallen time and again from the great strength
of my desire, helpless, into your arms.

“We are more together / than we know, how else could we keep on discovering / we are more together than we thought?” Low whistle.

I also highly recommend watching Look & See, about Wendell Berry’s work off the page on Netflix.

Poems I’ve Loved This Month: September 2017

Photo of the back of a cream-colored brick building with a gray door. The diagonal wrought-iron (cream, rusting) of the fire escape and balcony extend as diagonal shadows on the wall.

After working on my own manuscript in what seemed like in total solitude the past several years, I realize I need to get back to reading more poems. Now that my book’s getting published, the whir of excitement was quickly followed by the clunk of recognition: It’s time to return to reading new poetry. I miss it. I don’t recognize it (in a nice way). I’m starting this monthly post in an effort to read more and think more deeply about new poems, and also to share ones that I find especially resonant.

Selection from Rosalie Moffett’s Nervous System

I’ve enjoyed collecting the bits and pieces of this longer work as I’ve seen it spin out and out over the past year or so (more?) in journals. This piece features a spider dream that the speaker interprets to being about her mother and her mother’s health. As the mother’s health deteriorates, doesn’t some part of the speaker?

         … the idea of a spider the brain holds

like a lit match, a little request
for venom, a little
like my mother: her blue arm, her self

which held my self, an idea
of me, until I was real.

Facticity holds this poem (and its speaker) together: spider facts, Google-able dream interpretation facts, dog agility facts. It moves between a tender honesty, a searching frankness, a speaker who wants to be told how it really is while maybe avoiding how it really is if how it really is is too bad. I love this poem, in all its pieces, especially this one. (Also, I cannot get the lineation right on this (Coding!), so please do read the whole poem as it’s written.)

Read the rest here at Beloit Poetry Journal.

If you like it, buy her collection June in Eden.

*Rosi is a friend, but isn’t it great when you can admire a friend’s work?

Allison C. Rollins’ “Word of Mouth”

This floored me. I read it in the print issue on a Friday night after seeing someone on Twitter hyping it. (See? Twitter is not a total waste.) It tells the history of America and a life through teeth, beginning with George Washington’s (the facts about his false teeth are incredible), and takes us (where else?) but to memory and to the library, where the speaker tracks changes and thinks of faces as abacuses, of her mother and grandmother, of the future through the past. This poem sews together beauty and ugliness or rather, just refuses to separate them, which is one of the best (truest) things maybe an artist can do. “The darkening of fractures is rather curious,” the speaker says, and I’m still thinking about the fractures in my understanding of history and the fractures in this poem—the two places where it stops to begin a new section.

… The forgetting makes the
present tense possible. Memory is the gravity
of the mind. All the icebergs have started to
melt, milky objects left hanging by a
string, the doorknobs means to an end.

Read the rest at Poetry.

Erika Sanchez’s “Saudade”

For my own learning purposes, I’m especially interested (though haven’t yet parsed out) how this poem builds and moves. This sensual stunner begins in ordinary (if synesthetic) moments in “the republic of flowers”—rain sounds, hanging clothes—and ends with this marvel of language and texture and image:

… sealed honey never spoils
won’t crystallize I saw myself snapping
a swan’s neck I needed to air out
my eyes the droplets on a spiderweb
and the grace they held who gave me
permission to be this person to drag
my misfortune on this leash made of gold

I first read the word saudade, a Portuguese word without a direct translation into English, in a note almost 10 years ago. (It actually appears a few times in my forthcoming book.) Since, I’ve been drawn to it wherever I hear or see it.

Read the rest at Poets.org.

Lessons on Expulsion is headed to my mailbox stat. Take my money.

Katie Condon’s “On the Seventh Day God Says: What You’ve Got Is Virgin Charm & a Knife in Your Pocket.”

When I read this poem I laughed, gasped, and sighed. It was a really weird noise. Appropriate, as this is a poem of great weirdness. The speaker has the kind of intimacy with God that allows for irreverence, but still, at the end of the day, if only half-heartedly, haphazardly, but maybe with a little wishing, still telling God what you want—maybe just in case. Haphazardly because, well, God never gets it right. Or God does but a little too. This poem, maybe also like “Saudade,” and maybe not, is about the nostalgia for something that never was or at least that won’t be again. How nostalgia (both looking forward and back, as Rollins’ poem reminds me “Memory is about the future, not the past“) is inherently sensual, corporeal, and a little lonely.

God says, Thou shalt not kill.
& I’m like, But what about with my eyes.

I never asked for the capacity to love
ugly things, but here I am.

I say, I like my men smooth & far away, reticent
as a bookshelf.

& God butts in: I can do that for you.

Read all of this poem at BOAAT.

*Katie is also a friend. Here, too, grateful to be in the position of admiring a friend’s work.

Selection from Wendell Berry’s “Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer”

Here’s one of my great-aunt’s favorite poems and now one of mine. The last year has been a bit rough, and this is one that I might as well get tattooed on the back of my eyelids, except it’s small enough to learn by heart quickly and big enough to fill it.

When I rise up
let me rise up joyful
like a bird.

When I fall
let me fall without regret
like a leaf.

The Terror of Beauty, the Power of Love

Angela Lansbury: Goddess. The real deal. Entertainer extraordinaire.

Beauty and the Beast, the Disney animated feature now celebrating its 25th anniversary, was my first favorite movie and (perhaps not coincidentally) the first movie I can remember seeing in a theater. I was three. Stained glass and a glittering rose bigger than my eyes could take in, a young woman zooming through shelves of books on a rickety ladder, her animal friends gnawing at the pages: This cartoon might have shaped my whims and desires.

“Beauty prompts a copy of itself,” so Elaine Scarry says in “On Beauty and Being Just,” and this explains art, sure, but more importantly maybe: gawking: “Although very great cultural outcomes such as the Iliad or the Mona Lisa or the idea of distribution arise out of the requirement beauty places on us to replicate, the simplest manifestation of the phenomenon is the everyday fact of staring.”

To the movies! Yes, to the movies. Yes, and.

A child stares until he sees the doll’s nose twitch.

A child knows the world around them is alive, the inanimate world is animate, which is why a candlestick, a stuffy clock, a teacup, and swimming spoons are creatures worthy of empathy, celebration, and song.

The movie Beauty and the Beast is not without its terrors for a toddler: torches of furious townsfolk, the dark corners of a home, a well-meaning but incompetent parent, the growls and furies of love. Yet, I made it through nearly the entire 110 minutes.

Until the Beast turned into a man.

“Beast! Beast!”

I howled. I screamed. I wouldn’t and couldn’t stop.

My parents had to take me out of the theater. I believe the crying continued in the car. (What can I say? I was moved.)

The change from Beast to man was truly terrifying. The point of the fable as represented—the transformative power of love, inner beauty as outer beauty—was horrific and sad. Beast’s grotesque body was not as grotesque as his new one, one Belle didn’t know, one I didn’t know. This was not the creature I fell in love with. The crazed mob breaking down the door of the castle chanted “Kill the Beast!”

Beauty resurrects someone with her tears, but it doesn’t look or sound like the Beast.

Had the townspeople, in some regard, won?

When you are loved, does the you who you were before disappear? Do you lose your hirsute, outsized, toothy self? Do you fit better into clothes? Do you lose the power of make-believe, the stories calcifying into the bright stills of stained glass?

As a toddler, the holy terror terrified, I knew something about wildness and ugliness; I didn’t believe love could or should strip you of them. But as with most things, what we want others to want is what we see in ourselves.

My wailing reaction, an outburst, seems to speak to the nature of desire (or at least of mine): it can be loud, unseemly, excessive, claw-equipped, unkempt. We have to peel desire from its red velvet theater seat, rock it abye in crowds and parking lots, and stuff it into the sedan. It’s embarrassing.

This versus what the moral of the story, that what we desire becomes loveable because we love it, that in loving a wild soul we tame it—that this tamed love is equally (or more) desirable. That what we sense metaphysically should equal what we see or what we see we should see as beautiful, beautiful defined in the eyes of the same world that can hear a teapot sing, mistakenly thinks it’s only whistling.

I don’t want my gaze to change the object of my desire, but the object of my desire to change me.*

Metaphor is dangerous. Everything it says includes everything it doesn’t say.

I had stared at the Beast, only glimpsed the man. Beast as man, Cogsworth as man, Mrs. Potts as woman—were they any less real before I stared? Before they turned human?

The danger of looking. The danger of beauty.

(“And indeed there will be time / To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’”)

Later, I received the Beast Barbie doll, which was a male doll in the blue tails with hair for what we’d now call a man-bun with a furry mask that went over his head. This seemed wrong to me: The man face should be the mask—not the Beast. The Beast was the true self! The Beast was the Beloved. Given time, the prince’s hair became more wolfish, more Heathcliff; the Beast mask lost at the bottom of some tin or shelf. Eventually, as with all the other dolls, I gave them up, the alive world beckoning.

The magic mirror can “show you anything, anything you wish to see.”

No wonder then, the first section of Scarry’s “On Beauty and Being Just” is “On Beauty and Being Wrong.”

How did the teapot put it? “Bittersweet and strange / finding you can change,” though I can’t admit to having been wrong.

*The woman, not the Beast is protagonist; she does not change in this dramatic way. Another can of worms. Also worth noting that Princess Fiona in Shrek does not change back to a human in a parody of this kind of story arc.
*Also worth noting: The idea Scarry mentions (as I understand it), using Proust as an example, of moving around the beautiful object/person so that they remain unchanged from our purview (though both subject and object could be constantly changing, just keeping equal distance between them). Geometry!

Nicaragua, the Blonde, and the Lady in Blue

Photo of boats at San Juan del Sur Nicaragua

Friends, I am back from (clears throat) a yoga retreat in Nicaragua. Yes, yoga. More specifically, the Find What Feels Good/Yoga With Adriene retreat. The essay below is what I took there and took from it.

Welcome! This is the view looking out of a domicile in Maderas Village, Nicaragua.
Welcome! This is the view looking out of a domicile in Maderas Village, Nicaragua.

Friends, I could tell you about the monkeys that played in the trees above me, howling hilarious (or rapacious?) noises at each other; I could tell you about being overwhelmed my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean—how hard the waves break (no, really I couldn’t); I could tell you about that ocean’s throaty, sultry rhythm and blues, and how, as in Matthew Lippman’s poem “From God’s Notebook” one can hear it and say “It is my fault, it’s not my fault”; I could show you pictures worthy of (if I had the right hashtags!) capturing the Instagram hearts of thousands of scrolling strangers worldwide, one photo in particular of boats without docks, anchored right beyond shoreline, bobbing like fishing tackle and lures, and beyond these boats a succession of blue oblivions; how conflicted I felt about traveling somewhere and meeting very few residents besides staff; how conflicted I felt about how much I have, how I need to work harder to share it. Then, there were the flowers, like bright mid-century atomic clocks, like the skirts of can-can dancers, big and flashy and a little peek at something sexy; American flowers, I’m afraid, will never do now.

Sometimes I’m convinced the Earth was the mold for the curvature of the question mark. The only thing forged in iron the questions.

Who am I and what am I made of?

Do I want to make my mark on the world or leave no trace?

What is home? Where is it? Can’t some well-intentioned child set me on the front of his bicycle and pedal me past the moon and there already? When will I be beamed up to where I am supposed to be?

In my real life, my career is not thrilling, and sometimes can feel like it lacks purpose or meaning. My hobbies interest me more than my 9 to 5. My spouse and I recently moved to a beautiful area but I have yet to make lady friends (essential to any Jane Austen novel and also to the good life!). I struggle to acknowledge that I take issue with these things because I live such a charmed existence of choices (dog! loving spouse! instruments and books strewn across a house! a garden! family and friends who if not near are dear to me!); but of course (only me?) repression always seems to transform into wallowing. I’m fine! I’m fine! I’m . . . lying in bed all day and if you question it I am hissing at you like a cat trapped under a laundry basket.

If I sketched this life out, it would look so plain, Lindsey, this hissing voice starts up. Maybe you don’t have friends because you’re a weirdo, Lindsey. (Fair enough.) You’re a traitor to feminism because you are young-ish and married and are not leaning in, Lindsey. What about your obligation to the planet? To your family and your mentors? To yourself?

And that move to that beautiful place.

Home is a slippery word. It seems everywhere you go, someone is telling you about home and what it is and that there’s no place like it. Home is where the heart is; home is where the light is; home is wherever I’m with you; change your place and there you are!

Click my heels three times.

Woops.

Enter another night spent on the Youtubez (I’m gonna say with wine, but if wine wasn’t present, it was in spirit). Enter watching yoga video on said Youtubez or Googling for one and finding YWA at the start of a new year, a year, I promised myself, that I would work to “embrace routine,” that I would work to be content. There was pre-recorded Adriene saying it was time to be responsible for my own happiness.

It’s own your shit o’clock!

It was a bigger decision for me to get on the mat the first time, to get on it every day since, than it was to pony up for a YWA-style trip to Nicaragua, which I did.

The first night there, we were supposed to say what brought us; for me, I talked about having been more brain than body before yoga. It’s true. A mind can float anywhere, a body can only be one place at one time.

But what kind of home is a body?

But what kind of home is a body? | Photo courtesy of Oscar Lopez—Check out more of his work as he travels the globe here: https://www.instagram.com/oscarlopez/
But what kind of home is a body? | Photo courtesy of Oscar Lopez—Check out more of his work as he travels the globe here: https://www.instagram.com/oscarlopez/

The mostly inescapable kind. An untakebackable gift.

It’s hard enough to be comfortable in my own brain, much less my own body. How to build anything outside of either? Instead, for years, I went invisible. It’s easier than it sounds. After all, isn’t there a whole song about hiding light under a bushel?

The only answers I’ve found: Burn the bushel. Not either but both. Less or more and. (To make that or mean more than it did before—Sondheim fans unite!)

In a foreign country in a jungle on a mountain in a hut under a ceiling of dried palm fronds, I laid down. In a guided meditation after a particularly steamy practice, Adriene asked us to imagine a walk in a jungle, at some point landing on a warm rock on a beach, making ourselves comfortable.

“What do you see?”

"What do you see?" This is the roof of the yoga building at Maderas Village.
“What do you see?” This is the roof of the yoga building at Maderas Village.

The top of my vision: a(n extremely fashionable) straw sunhat, ocean in periphery, and front and center, there on the sand, my husband in the cap he always wears and our dog, walking toward me.

Imagine that—a desire fulfilled, and yet. What I want is what I have and I just want more of it.

Soon before heading to Nicaragua, I read an article about how Emily Dickinson—that poet long rumored (despite any attempts toward right-ing) to have lived a lonely spinster life (can spinsters have un-lonely lives? nay!) crying into her rejection letters, locked in an attic in Amherst—had a garden full of rare flowers, that she spent days and seasons at this hobby, that when she was alive she was better known as a botanist than as a failed poet.

To think, a life thought tragic (and sexless! and progeny-less! but thank goodness we kept the only thing worth salvaging—the art, right fellas?) was full (and created life after life after life!) and maybe (who knows?) full of happiness on the daily. One way to draw it is dreary; another full of color and light. (The truth maybe an overhead projector on which we can layer slides.)

Like those poses where I’m pretty sure it looks like I’m doing nothing but I’m working up a sweat, from the outside it’s hard to know how much work is going on inside. Looking from the outside in—I don’t have to do that with myself; why not grant myself the gift of not doing that? The world is full of harsh eyes; I can give soft eyes. (I give really good eye—sue me!) The world is full of bustle; I can give stillness. The world is full of noise; I can give it a listen, I can give it quiet, but that doesn’t mean being invisible.

Me, rocking the same hat that Sissy Spacek wears in one episode of Bloodline Season 2, I am pretty sure | Photo credit Jennifer "Woodsy" Woods—see her photos daily here: https://www.instagram.com/woodsygolightly/
Me, rocking the same hat that Sissy Spacek wears in one episode of Bloodline Season 2, I am pretty sure | Photo credit Jennifer “Woodsy” Woods—see her photos daily here: https://www.instagram.com/woodsygolightly/

I misunderstood the dictum to, in times of trouble, turn inward. I thought it meant going it alone. I mistook my shell for my insides and wasn’t careful and almost, or did for a moment, turned to stone. But then, during those years, all that darn laughter, all those dreadful singing people on porches and on couches, all the bad dance moves one can’t help but dust off. I’m thankful for all the people who weren’t afraid of my being afraid, who aren’t afraid of extremes of volume or feeling, or of fumbling. People who will just sit with you are the best people. (Many people who took the FWFG Nicaragua trip are the best people.)

Another photo from Oscar Lopez, taken at a party that will go down in infamy. Check out his website at http://www.be-lost.com/about/
Two beautiful women, Andrea and Jude, avec moi, all drinking delicious juice. Another photo from Oscar Lopez, taken at a party that will go down in infamy. Check out his website at http://www.be-lost.com/about/

In line to board the plane from Managua back to the States, an older woman—dressed in bright blue—in front of me was speaking to the flight attendants in Spanish, trying to work something out. Double-checking that I had out the right tickets, that I hadn’t dropped my passport, I didn’t pay it much mind. When we reached the nexus between plane door and hall, I realized she was trying to transport a piñata, several feet tall, of a blonde girl onto the plane.

I like that stupid-looking, needs-a-comb blonde piñata girl—full of nothing or full of sweets—waiting for the delight of being busted open. I like the lady in blue insisting—checked or no—she make it on the plane. I’m grateful she asked (or, that I think she did), and that we sat rows apart on a machine in the sky headed toward a place we both chose to go.

San Juan del Sur at sunset.
San Juan del Sur at sunset.

Good Me, Bad Me, and Interview with The Mondegreen

Mondegreen literary journal logo

One of my favorite online magazines is The Mondegreen, named for “a kind of misunderstanding: you mishear a word or phrase in a way that gives it a different meaning.” Their content is lively, fun, weird. Yes!

It’s nice to have the chance to have some of my favorite writing–a series of poems about the adventures of Good Me and Bad Me–up at one of my favorite sites. They also interviewed* me.

In this same issue the featured fictioneer, W. Todd Kaneko, writes about Rockgod and Metalhead, who form a kind of rad Midwestern Good Me–Bad Me duo.

*If one is interviewed on record, one most certainly confesses her dying love of the Louisville Cardinals. That information will surely be disseminated weeks later during the height of the team’s prostitution-ring imbroglio. Who can tell when one will earn the designation super fan?

On Dolly the Dog, Liv Tyler, Shibboleths, & My Favorite Part of Speech

Photo of editor dog

When I’m feeling resistant to Strunk & White and other style shibboleths, I love to remember Schoolhouse Rock. During the American Copy Editors Society’s May tweetchat, we gathered to discuss “what to sweat.” This discussion led to the pet peeves of others by which we cannot abide. (Refusing to end a sentence with a preposition? Check.)

I forgot to say: I am fighting the good fight against generations of writers who disparage the adverb.

Adverbs can be slashed (visibly wounded on many cutting room floors) for brevity’s sake. Adverbs can be very, very bad. How bad? Extremely bad. The stuff of blockbuster film trailers.

But adverbs are the Liv Tyler of language. You can’t put them in everything. Apply sparingly. But when perfectly cast: Well, what can be added to That Thing You Do or Arwen in the LOTR movie series or Corey Mason in Empire Records? They are the strange part that makes the whole better, richer, somehow more credible.

Adverbs, when applied well, are evidence of a language full of quirks, of a writer’s great (or not-so-great) diction. An adverb is a tell.

I’d like to stand up proudly for the pulverized little guy who often sports an -ly or dark in cognito bug-eye sunglasses. Many afternoons I take a dance break with my dog and sing the song above: “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly, get your adverbs here.” Dolly the dog also enjoys the occasional adverb, as it is frequently accompanied with a treat. (What? She is my workplace proximity acquaintance.)

Dolly the Dog: My relatively new workplace proximity acquaintance. No, I don't normally work from bed. But Dolly does.
Dolly the Dog: My relatively new workplace proximity acquaintance. No, I don’t normally work from bed. But Dolly does.