Mapping - Gillian Nevers

NB: In order to promote Architrave poems and poets, this blog will release both poet bios and my comments on their poems into the wild. Enjoy~

Read the full text of the poem by clicking the image or purchase it here.

The Poem:
This is a short poem with a big punch. The speaker is relaxed, enjoying the company of old friends on a lazy summer evening. But don't let the tone fool you - Nevers lays out the loose tangle of this group's history both to beguile and to prime her reader for the end's intimate touch. That touch is the knot at the center of a complex history, but it's also a kind of 'you are here' on the map of their shared lives. The "incision that travels,/ like a narrow road over/ the flat plain of your chest" will continue to connect these two women, just as their past includes the same man. This is something poetry does especially well: teasing out what's True (in this case friendship) from the tangle of the everyday.

The Poet:
Gillian Nevers started writing poetry in 2002 after retiring from a career working with victims of crime. Her poems have appeared in Silk RoadMiller's Pond,Wisconsin People and Ideas,PearlPirenes FountainVerse Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Poets' Calendar, and several other print and online literary magazines. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011 and won second prize in the 2008 Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters statewide poetry contest. Gillian is the current membership chair for the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (WFOP) and writes the "Markets" column for the WFOP's online, and print, Museletter. She has a degree in Art Education from the University of Wisconsin, Madison,with a concentration in printmaking and painting, which may explain why many of her poems are influenced by works of art. Gillian has two grown sons and lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband.


As We Celebrate

There are so many different celebrations this time of year, all of them glorious. My own preference is for the winter solstice - the longest night, yes, but punctured by light (both electrical and sun). It gives me peace to see the darkness filled with and ultimately answered by light, and that peace leads me to gratitude: for family and friends, for poets brave enough to share their poems, for readers everywhere, and for the abundance that makes Architrave possible.

In that same spirit, I offer you this short poem by Lucille Clifton. It's a blessing suitable for any occasion or season and it never fails to calm me. I hope you find it similarly useful.

I'll be taking a brief blog break; the next post will appear Thursday, December 29.
photo: M. Dellas


On the Application of Poetry - Guest Post by Don Raymond, Jr.

Sarah Lindsay’s What All It Takes
from Primate Behavior (Knopf, 1997)

November, 2007: the last phone call of the last hour of the day before leaving for Thanksgiving was my doctor telling me I had been diagnosed with diabetes. 
            Over the following weeks of measuring-cup starvation, I looked for ways to assign meaning to what had happened. I didn’t need an answer to the existential “why.”  I knew “why” – sugar was not one of the four food groups, no matter how much I wanted it to be.  Ditto for coffee, cholesterol, and cigarettes. What I needed was a way to give this meaning, to help me feel this was more than simply a struggle for continued existence.
            I found myself reciting Sarah Linday’s “What All It Takes,” over and over again. Sometimes in the morning, to brace myself for another day of measured almonds and banana snacks; sometimes in the midst of a panic attack brought on by too much exercise. And far too often, murmured under my breath in anger at the world.
            As the glucose meter read too high one moment, too low the next, I would mutter: “Up and down its red and blue chutes / my defective blood bumps / Oreos and gumballs one hour, / famished soap bubbles the next.” Describing red blood cells as “Oreos and gumballs” made the sickness tolerable.  If she could laugh at it, could sum it up in such words, the least I could do was survive. The least I could do was marvel at the mounds of pharmaceutical junk I was producing - the twice-daily blood sugar readings, the lancets for drawing blood, special strips for reading sugar levels, a mountain of biologically hazardous garbage, all to prop up my continued existence. I had become a medical cottage industry. All this stuff … “Christmas survived, / I find with the special sugarless candy’s / mild laxative effect time to wonder / at what all it takes to keep me up.”
I had been hurt, in ways that would not heal. I had reached the time of my life where ready access to hospitals was a major lifestyle decision. Though I’d always lived within walking distance of a liquor store, the pipe dream of rugged self-sufficiency was gone for good. “… in an Ice Age cave I’d be dead. / In a Roman villa with household gods and servants / I’d be dead. In a Gothic wheatfield town, / even before the plague came I’d be dead.”
            I made it through, and in no large part because someone else had before me. Someone had faced the same thing, and won, and Sarah Lindsay told me about it in language so vital, so heartbreakingly true, that it had to be true for me, as well.

For more on Sarah Lindsey, check out her page at the Poetry Foundation.

For more about Don Raymond, Jr., visit his work for Architrave.


Painting - Eric Primm

NB: In order to promote Architrave poems and poets, this blog will release both poet bios and my comments on their poems into the wild. Enjoy~

Read the full text of the poem by clicking the image or purchase it here.

The Poem:
The restrained longing expressed in this poem is well suited to the Villanelle, its pattern of repeated lines and end rhymes creating an obsessive focus on the woman being painted. She's naked enough for the speaker to see the scar across her ribs, but she remains distant, even as she intoxicates him. It's all so seamless in Primm's hands, how the brush is both on the woman's body and the canvas, how she is both present and absent, but it's actually quite difficult to do. Most Villanelles fail because the writer contorts the language to fit the form, making something so obviously artificial it fails to satisfy. Not here. The phrases slide through the repetition just as someone would say them today. It ends, as required, with the repeated lines, sealing this couple into a kind of permanent non-embrace. It's form beautifully following function.

The Poet:
Eric Primm is an engineer for the Boeing Company and a fiction writer in the University of Missouri - St. Louis MFA program. Architrave is his first publication.


Turning, Returning - Alex Fabrizio

NB: In order to promote Architrave poems and poets, this blog will release both poet bios and my comments on their poems into the wild. Enjoy~

Read the full text of the poem by clicking the image or purchase it here.

The Poem:
Every family has its stories, the narratives that define its members and how they relate to each other and to the world. They can change depending on who tells them and why. And then, because people are never simple, there is conflicting evidence. Fortunately, the poet has given us an honest speaker with the benefit of hindsight. Della doesn't scruple to shield the reader from the effects of her parents' dysfunction, from the humiliation of wetting the bed, but she also shows us her father's fearless joy at her birth. Only then do the photos surface to fill in the affection missing from her mother's story. In a less nuanced poem, they could have functioned as a simplistic affirmation, but here they expand our understanding of the speaker's hurt and hunger to be loved.

The Poet:
Alex Fabrizio is a University Fellow and MFA candidate in Poetry at The Ohio State University. She is a University of Florida alumna and is originally from Orlando.


If Basho Were Alive Now, As A Woman...

Jane Hirshfield's Come, Thief
(Knopf, 2011)

What in this unpleated world isn't someone's seduction?

There it is, right on page one, the poet stating her intent: this will be a seduction. But because it's orchestrated by Jane Hirshfield, it will revel in imperfection and impermanence. Readers familiar with Hirshfield's work will recognize her strong Eastern lean here. There is an aphoristic quality that suggests the haiku master Basho. Living in Seventeenth Century Japan, he wrote Even in Kyoto/ Hearing the cuckoos cry/ I long for Kyoto.* Had he been a Twenty-First Century American woman, he might have written Stay, leaf./ It reddened,/ embarrassed for me and itself. (22) That same poem (The Promise) ends with Stay, I said to my loves./ Each answered,/ Always. Hirshfield and Basho are kindred spirits, understanding all too well the ephermeral nature of our existence and the exquisite heartbreak of being born to die. Both masters write the kind of poems mimicked by less experienced poets because they appear simple. But while the images and metaphors are straightforward, they haven't been simplified.

Take the title piece. It uses familiar images of a window, a path leading to a door, and a fire. The poet compares the window to a lax guard; she makes the path an accomplice of the titular thief (i.e. time); she links the fire to birth and love; its all very predictable and plain. In less accomplished hands this poem would be a lament that nothing lasts, but Hirshfield warmly courts the thief, saying, "Dear one, enter." It's a difficult stance for an American poet; not only do we like to think that love conquers all, we cling to it as if its absence were a form of death. The speaker of this poem knows better and says so. All things subject to time must end, therefore an ephemeral being must embrace both love and the absence of love. We must welcome the thief, knowing he will take everything. It feels like a much larger piece of writing that has been carefully honed down to its essential 8 lines, instead of writing that was born small and never grew beyond its initial idea.

Very few of the poems in Come,Thief are longer than a page and many are much shorter. It makes for a satisfying afternoonpoems that can be grasped on an initial reading that also inspire (and reward) multiple readings. In the time it takes to finish, the light will have changed from the bright glare of day to the softer, more forgiving tones of early evening. And the poems will stay with you. Late at night you might think of them again, how their embrace of impermanence is full of joy, like master Basho: It would melt/ in my hand/ the autumn frost.*

*Translations of Basho by Robert Haas


Seizure - Corey Mesler

NB: In order to promote Architrave poems and poets, this blog will release both poet bios and my comments on their poems into the wild. Enjoy~

Read the full text of the poem by clicking the image or purchase it here.

The Poem:
How do you describe the failure of language using language? It's a challenge well suited to the compressed space of poetry. We're never told who Chloe is, but it's easy to tell she's loved - loved so much, in fact, that her seizure incapacitates the speaker as well. So much is left unsaid. The reader is allowed to fill in those enormous blank spaces with emotion, with whatever associations the poem's images provoke. "Now it's years ago," and this is the first time s/he has been able to speak of it. Language has failed in the way that language always fails in the face of fear. But language also returns to give us the poem, the outline of the unspeakable.

The Poet:
Corey Mesler has published in numerous journals and anthologies. He has published four novels, Talk: A Novel in Dialogue (2002), We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon (2006), The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores (2010) and Following Richard Brautigan (2010), two full length poetry collections, Some Identity Problems (2008) and Before the Great Troubling (2011), and two books of short stories, Listen: 29 Short Conversations (2009) and Notes toward the Story and Other Stories (2011). He has also published a dozen chapbooks of both poetry and prose. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize numerous times, and two of his poems have been chosen for Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac. He also claims to have written, "Coronet Blue." With his wife, he runs Burke's Book Store in Memphis TN, one of the country's oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores. He can be found at www.coreymesler.com.


Lazarus of Bethany Speaks from the Tomb - Emily Grise

NB: In order to promote Architrave poems and poets, this blog will release both poet bios and my comments on their poems into the wild. Enjoy~

Read the full text of the poem by clicking the image or purchase it here

About the Poem:
The Bible is full of poetry and the Gospel according to John is among its most lyrical books. But it is also an official history, a status quo, which is something artists and poets have long challenged. Why is the story so clear that Jesus stayed away? Why wasn't Lazarus upset with his friend? This poem reminds us that Lazarus was human before he was a saint. What could be more human than refusing to cooperate? Even Jesus, according to Christian teaching, is simultaneously human and divine. Does he stay away to make sure his miracle has enough drama? That would be a very human thing to do, too. Or maybe their actions are a guide for how to transcend our baser instincts. However you read it, this poem will help you better know your own mind.

About the Poet:
Emily Grise - a poet and native of Lexington, KY - is working toward her MFA at the University of Missouri - St. Louis. She teaches composition at UMSL's Pierre Laclede Honors College and reads for WomenArts Quarterly, a St.Louis-based journal featuring work by women writers and artists. "Lazarus Speaks from the Tomb" was composed in a notebook whose cover features a cigarette-smoking monkey in a three-piece suit - a phenomenon which Emily enjoys but doesn't altogether condone.