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Updated: 5 days ago


 

If a poet is a poet for long enough, and has published enough poems and books to have a Selected Poems, it must be a strange thing to look back through oneself as if to say, “Oh yes, I was really into THAT! And that, and oh my goodness {slight eye roll at former self} that too.” And yet, I imagine one of the gifts of being a life-long poet is that the books offer you proof of all the different people you’ve been. What a gift this is, and certainly not just for the poet; a selected poems like Jody Stewart’s This Momentary World (Nine Mile Press 2022) gives the reader a rare chance to closely follow the evolution of a poet from the 1970’s up to 2014.

In the collection’s first poem, “THE HARLEY ROAD MARSH MARIGOLDS,” Stewart writes, “Little lights strung / in a black mirror inside us. The mirror is / inside us…” Despite this opening that might seemingly foreshadow a poet whose focus is especially inward, the beginning sections of This Momentary World are decidedly outward facing. Characters from history come alive through the 18th and 19th centuries, and there are mentions of daguerreotypes, estates, stone castles, as well as appearances by “Cassandra, Anne, and delicate Marie.” Stewart balances an ornate sensibility with flashes of lyrical intensity and startling enjambment. For example, from “NATASHA: PORTRAIT WITHOUT LANDSCAPE,” she writes, “The air / is full of ashes. I hear birds lift // out of the branches…” That first break after “air” invigorates, and the assonance between “air” and “ash” feels like two strong poetic wings flaps that allow us to see those birds, their tails disappearing into the lovely subtle rhyme of “branches” and “ashes.”

The melding of senses is another of Stewart’s strengths. From “CONSENT”: “The huge white flowers stained now / with tea and chocolate and I can taste / how I won’t leave you.” And on the facing page, in “SOLILOQUY THAT BEGINS WITH TWO FAMOUS ALCHEMICAL PAINTINGS”: “I want to talk you out of those small accidents / that have nothing to do with listening.”

While accidents can be listened to and the process of leaving has a taste, it was often color, and particularly red, that caught my attention throughout this book. One of my absolute favorite poems in the entire collection is from the “CASCADES” series, “IV / the parallax”. The poem is strung throughout with red both overt (“her mouth red”) and covert (“the black spots of blood along her leg”). It’s about a fourteen-year-old girl who sneaks out to meet an unnamed person: “This is the night / of the first time.” The poem manages to be elusive yet matter-of-fact, both wistful and exact, told at a remove (“This was being third person / as she saw herself give up”) yet exhilaratingly connected with the night. It ends magisterially: “She saw the moon assume mortality and stop / perfectly on her face. Poor us, she thought, // and all the physical world stood up!” I stood up to give this poem a standing ovation.

As the book progresses, the poems become more grounded and personal

As the book progresses, the poems become more grounded and personal, and the language backs off some of its earlier lyrical intensities in favor of a more direct, plain-spoken yet not-any-less-bracing honesty. The prose poem “MARTIN” is one such poem. Making the most of the prose poem’s inherent ability to almost lull a reader into prosaic comfort, Stewart waits until the end of the poem to literally light it on fire. The narrator, a six-year-old girl, climbs under the bed of her drunkenly rageful but asleep father to set the bed on fire with a clutch of matches. “The air began to craze, my throat tore apart.” The mother races in to put out the fire before any screams wake the sleeping brute. However, it’s not only the fire that lights up this poem. Amidst the flames and beneath the bed, the narrator says, “I remember how warm the space was beneath that bed, a place where my whole body fit and felt briefly safe.”

Once the reader arrives in the selections from GHOST FARM (2010), the daily grind and poetry of farm life take over, allowing the speaker to heal and settle into routine: “Most days were okay. Nausea just another kind of job.” The poems in these later sections are sharply observed, but blunted by exhaustion of caring for animals and running a farm. Mostly, it’s a contented exhaustion attuned to the fact that “words don’t do the work” (from “BRINGING BACK THE FARM”). The poet has hard work to do, and that physical labor takes priority over poetry. A reader gets the sense that poetry is not less important, but simply that the care of living beings takes precedent. “When I was a poet, I carried a pen I could never find. Now a knife in my pocket, twine, grain, syringes – whatever fits.” There’s a pervading sense of tiredness yet ongoingness, which gives way to deep satisfaction.

As I read these hard-earned final poems in This Momentary World, I remembered the end of Stewart’s poem “AGAINST SILENCE”: “Nothing works until the bruise / opens—“ Across the decades, we listen to Jody Stewart’s voice change, watch her subjects expand, but Stewart remains steadfast in her commitment to examining pain, opening it up, and allowing her readers to watch it do its work. That final hyphen tells me that, to Stewart, the bruise is always opening.

 

Jefferson Navicky was born in Chicago and grew up in Southeastern Ohio. He is the author of four books: Head of Island Beautification for the Rural Outlands (2023); Antique Densities: Modern Parables & Other Experiments in Short Prose (2021), winner of the 2022 Maine Literary Book Award for Poetry, as well as the poetic novel The Book of Transparencies (2018) and the story collection, The Paper Coast (2018). He earned a B.A. in English Literature from Denison University, and an M.F.A. in writing and poetics from Naropa University.



Updated: 5 days ago

Beer & Wasps


We lived near

some railroad tracks

in Gainesville, Florida.

It was summer—

I was three, my sister four;

we were both very hungry.

A wasp had followed

us back from

the ABC store

where my birthmother

had just bought a case

of beer.

As persistent as the Florida

heat or the men

that hovered around

our single-wide,

asking for sex,

sometimes even flashing

their stingers,

the wasp pursued us

with its constant buzzing.

Mother would down

a beer, dodge

that yellow dart,

and discard her empties

on the sidewalk.

It was as if

she were afraid

of getting lost

and needed

a trail of beer cans

to find her way

home—

or what I now think of

as her home,

that alphabet land

of booze.

When she was arrested

and we were all put

into the back of a cruiser,

I clasped my hands

over my ears,

fearing that sonic

corkscrew

might begin again.

My brain was like

a bottle of cheap, red wine

splashing all over

the seat.

After she sobered up,

mother left us

at the station.

An officer said,

his voice too cheerful,

“Hey, little man, have you

learned your ABCs?”

When I did learn them,

I pictured fifty different kinds

of beer, a liquid

language

of ruin.

I had been adopted—

after three years

in foster care.

My sister was in New York;

my birthmother had

disappeared.

All I had left was

the prick

of memory.

In this way, beer

and wasps

gave birth to poetry.



Echolocation


Like bats, their voices boomerang.

My birthmother says, “We’re out of booze,”


as if a three-year-old autistic kid could run

to the liquor store. My birthfather calls me


“R- .” These words have wings:

they hang inside my skull and then, at night,


plunge and pounce, though many years

have passed since I was taken from them.


Baby bats fly tucked inside their mothers’

pouches; they must endure the stealthy


and tumultuous hunt for prey—

the click click click of echolocating pulses.


Does a baby bat experience fear?

I would scream whenever my parents picked me up


and staggered across the room. Tucked inside

their need, I’d find myself searching


for drugs or booze.

Sometimes in dreams they come for me. I can hear


the flapping of wings, the terminal buzz—

nearly 200 clicks per second. “I am in college now!”


I shout. “I have a new mom and dad!”

My cricket heart hides in the grass.



Abandoned at Three


Poor child! he's as like his own dadda

as if he were spit out of his mouth.

—George Farquhar, Love and a Bottle (1689)


Mother of the twelve-pack, mother, did you miss me?

Your genes place their rough hands on my face; they kiss me


(as you never did), they cry, they tousle my hair.

Giving thanks to god, they say, “It’s you! You as me!”


The prodigal son has returned, spitting image

of a Lucky Strike whore—snarling, wistful me,


who once thought anger was a kind of redemption,

its obsidian aftermath a twisted me,


a heart as black and buried as a Pompeian’s.

“It’s me! Me as you!” I say to the mirror’s me,


to the you lost in love’s reflection. You were poor,

alcoholic. You sold your body in Kissimmee,


Florida. Thrice you tried to drown me in the bath;

thrice you stopped yourself. O Rhonda. O David James.



Our Lungs Again

There will be no more hunting and we can understand our lungs again.

– Harmony Holiday


1. Fostercareless, Faster Family


Done gone silver sister. Done gone birth dad. Doggone, dung-heap, dung dad. In Florida we had fear conditioning, central air for the young child’s developing brain. Lung lunge, nose need, pure, Pope-like terror. The soul is God’s bad breath. Red rover, red rover, it’s really not over. In dreams, I dredge the pond for mom.


2. When My Sister Was Persephone


Demeter was drunk. That dimwitted daffodil fell for any old sun. Wife-beater wind, muscle-crowned cock, king of the black and blue morning. When Hades abducted her, my lungs filled with ice. Amber alert, memory’s pervert. Underfear, underfar, underfoe—“She’s my sister! Assist her!” I moaned.


3. Heartwood


The wood stove wills a fire; the wood stove burns my heart. Duramen by the cord; dura men lord it over the tree-child, that silly, life affirming sap. A second intake valve introduces air into the hottest part of the firebox. O fire-prayer! O sassafras! I said, “Get over here and kiss my ash.” The lungs of hell breathe flame and go on living.


 

David James “DJ” Savarese (www.djsavarese.com) is an artful activist, multi-genre writer,

scholar and teacher. A 2022/23 Iowa Arts Fellow and Zoeglossia Fellow, he is the author of

Swoon (2022) and A Doorknob for the Eye (2017)and a co-author of Studies in Brotherly Love

(2021). His lyric essay “Passive Plants” was a notable essay in Best American Essays (2018). His recently published scholarship includes “Disrupting the Garden Wall” in Logic Magazine;

“Enmeshing Selves, Words and Media, or Two Life Writers in One Family Talk about Art and

Disability” in Er(r)go; “Coming to My Senses,” forthcoming in Neurofutures; and “Unearthingthe Concepts That Bury Us,” forthcoming in an anthology on Disability and Dialogue (2023). Co-producer, narrative commentator, and subject of the Peabody award-winning, Emmy-nominated documentary Deej: Inclusion Shouldn’t Be a Lottery (2017), he co-teaches poetrywriting through the LYNX Project in Chicago. As Co-Chair of The Alliance for Citizen Directed Supports, he designed and directs The Lives-in-Progress Collective.




Updated: 5 days ago

“Never since the beginning of the world has there been so little light. Our winter afternoons have been known at times to last a hundred years.”
― Charles Simic, The World Doesn't End
 

Charles Simic died just a few weeks ago. This issue is dedicated to his memory.


Charlie accepted me into his quirky, little University of New Hampshire MA poetry program in 1976. I had read those early books of his that Braziller published, Dismantling The Silence and Return To A Place Lit By A Glass of Milk with awe and could scarcely believe my luck. And the program was tiny then, wonderfully so...I believe there were only five or six of us in that group. Marilyn Johnson had come from Oberlin, Frank Butler who showed up with a BS in biology from somewhere in the south, wrote loopy poems about DNA and once brought Charlie a souvenir from a bus trip through Mexico: a shrunken head (Charlie refused it). Jon Pijewski was still there and other wonderful poets Larkin Warren, Mimi White, Charlotte Matkovic, Susan Webster and others whose names are now lost in the fog of the years.


Charlie liked the small workshop. And we grad students couldn't have been more different. We were a lab experiment, a small orchestra composed of tubas, banjos, harps, clarinets, washboards, hubcaps, spoons, barnyard sounds and violins. And Charlie conducted the ensemble with those thin, brown cigarettes he was smoking back then. What a time.


I'm not sure he knew my first name. From the start I was Schulz. I'm not sure I ever really needed or wanted a first name again. I was Schulz. Sometimes he said it in surprise, Schulz! other times like a thought, Schulz simultaneous with a subtle chuckle...Often, when I'd written something bad, really bad, it was a lament, schulz.


He once said a poem I'd written titled Backdoor was the greatest basketball poem ever written. He said he'd shown it to Tom Meschery, a poet who'd also had a good career in the NBA, who agreed. If I never do anything else in my life as a poet, I have that, though apparently there isn't much call for basketball poems. It's never been published.


I once found myself (dazzled) in a "green room" with Charlie and Mark Strand after a reading somewhere or other. Strand had brought a couple bottles of wine, good wine as you might expect. But he hadn't brought a corkscrew so Charlie took a pen and happily poked little pieces of cork into the wine and poured with gusto.


Charlie read in Portland a few years ago. We had dinner in the loud little jazz club where he was reading...Charlie, Helen (of course), my daughter Hannah, and me. I brought a copy of a small chapbook Charlie had published in 1976 titled Biography and A Lament. Charlie had given it to me just before I left UNH. He inscribed it: For Bill, with love and so much more…I can’t find words for right now.


Lament? Yes. Lament.


 

You'll find more memories of Charlie in the section that follows, Remembering Charlie.

 

This is the first issue of our fourth year and it is just packed.

  • Richard Shindell, songwriter, guitarist, singer, producer and now poet is our Headlines feature. I was introduced to Richard's music nearly 25 years ago and he's been a constant on my playlists ever since. I wrote to him many months ago to see if he'd contribute and he's been kind enough to share his poem, Spider Wasp.

  • Jefferson Navicky, a noted poet here in Maine, reviews Jody Stewart's new collection of selected poems, This Momentary World.

  • Marie Harris (former Poet Laureate of New Hampshire) and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda (former Poet Laureate of Virginia) spoke with several current and former poets laureate to ask, can the occasional poem outlive the occasion? The answers are fascinating.

  • Of course the issue is packed with art, poetry, and video from old and new friends.

  • Our cover artist is Jo Richardson. More of Jo's striking work is inside and in issue 3.1.

 

Stats:

  • We've had 2,546 unique visitors to Hole In The Head and 3,600 site sessions since our last issue on November 1.

  • We get the most visitors on Tuesdays, an average of 54 per day. And the fewest visitors on Sunday and Monday, an average of 32 per day.

  • And here's where are readers are located


 

My thanks, as always, to everyone here at Hole In The Headquarters who help to pull this all together: Bill Burtis, Nancy Jean Hill, Jere DeWaters, Marilyn Johnson, Michael Hettich, Marie Harris, Peter Johnson, and Tom Bruton. Thanks for routinely pulling me back down to earth at the end of every reading period!

 

Rest in peace Bryan, Grant, Greg, Father Tom, Charlie, and Michael.

Thank you for all you gave.

 

Here's what I'm listening to at this very moment:



We'll be back with more of this Hole thing in May.

I'd love to hear what you think: editor@holeintheheadreview.com

Be free you fool!


- photo, George Pagan III



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