Never Check “Other”

I went to get a baseline bone density test and I fell into a Kafkaesque intake.
First off, I have to admit: I am a crazy person in medical settings. I blame the 6 weeks in the ICU and months in the Beth Israel Hospital I spent as a young woman. Or, my personality. Anyway, I tend to lose it.
Intake forms are always a big challenge. I usually just lie. I have never had a drink, an edible, or more than one sexual partner.
This form innocently asked for my race and I checked “other.”
“What are you?” the tech asked. She was a pleasant person I was about to torture.
“Askenazic Jew.”
“They don’t have that. Can you just say ‘Caucasian’?”
Now that is a pretty rude question. Are we not allowed to self identify here? However, I didn’t need to tell her how Jews couldn’t swim in certain swimming pools or go to social dancing parties when I was growing up. But I did.
However, I’m not just insane. If X-ray Center needs me to be white, I can be white.
“Mark whatever works,” I said.
But now she was confused. It seems she wasn’t checking anything. “Your results can’t estimate your fracture risk now,” she said.
At this point even I was confused. Fracture risk assessment needs race. And I was firmly “Other.” Maybe that is why I check that box–the Jew as Other, the reason for the Holocaust.
But I just left it alone.
Turns out, my bones are normal.
It is the whole me that isn’t.

Brevity in Haiku

I follow Don Wentworth and Paper Boat Haiku Review on Facebook for well-curated haiku. This led me to an article by Jim Wilson, which takes a different view of haiku syllabics than the usual. Really interested me, the idea of running some lines a bit longer. Here it is, below.
Jim Wilson: As I have mentioned in other posts, this minimalist esthetic is guided by the principle that ‘less is more’ and the fewer the words the better the Haiku.
In the essay ‘Haiku Form’ (haiku poet) Hackett wrote:

“I for one find it more than sad to witness the crude obscurantist effect that an over-emphasis upon concision has had upon the creation of some haiku in the United States. Brevity per se does not make a haiku! . . . As one who believes haiku in English can be poetry, I deplore the corrosive effect of what I term minimalism – or telegraphic usage – in our haiku.”
For an article by Jim Wilson, with haiku, on J. W. Hackett (with his argument against concision in haiku composition), visit:…/haiku-of-james…
This also includes a look at the haiku of James Wright.

Three Questions for Maya Janson

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

My relationship to the line is largely intuitive, which requires that I feel my way through the poem, trying to look and listen in order to know what’s called for. There often seems to be some secret (to me) mechanism at work in each poem, something that drives the way the line wants to be handled. I don’t know in advance what this is, nor how the poem will ultimately look on the page, so there’s a lot of messing around, trying out different line lengths and playing with enjambment, though too much of the latter and the poem begins to wobble. At the same time, I like to at least occasionally use the line as a sense-making unit, that is, breaking at a place that allows a natural phrase or an interesting cluster of words to stand alone, in order to be highlighted. Generally I find myself appreciating the orderliness that happens with a more unified line in each poem, enjoying the visual effect of lines that end more or less at the same point on the page.

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

The sitting at a desk part of writing happens in short bursts. It’s not only restlessness that drives me outdoors but something akin to wanting to aerate the poem with the breath of the larger world. There’s something physical needed, sometimes in the initial generative part of any given piece and most especially in the revision process. There’s a power in putting one foot in front of the other while working the poem out in the head. I think this might have to do with finding the music of the lyric, using the body to pound out the sound patterns. There’s also the encounter with the worldly elements, being blown about or rained on, and other-worldly elements too, that brings a fullness beyond my one small life into the poem. Basho, the Japanese poet known for wandering, is said to have spoken of his walking and poem-making as conversations between a ‘ghost and a ghost-to-be’.  I too like to situate myself on that continuum.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

By any measure, to live a life that allows me to write poetry marks me as one of the fortunate few. To have something that brings me joy and sorrow, in one small package—again, how lucky! Without poetry as a lens the world would be a little less colorful. And still, even after many years of doing it, I’m sometimes surprised to find myself writing poems and identifying myself as a poet. As a child I read only fiction and imagined growing up and writing stories. I didn’t begin reading poetry until I was in my early twenties, and then it was only because my best friend was a poet. Once I started writing poetry however, there was no going back. While there’s not much in the way of regret, there is much that is oddly quirky about the practice that places it outside mainstream ways of thinking/talking that sometimes, in certain circles, I feel reticent about claiming. This is especially true when it comes to sharing my poems with people who don’t read or write poetry, more so with those who confess to not liking or understanding poetry.  How to explain the weirdness of the poetic obsession? Mostly I don’t even try.
Maya Janson’s first book, Murmur & Crush, was published by Hedgerow Books. Her poems have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies and she has received fellowships from MacDowell and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She lives in Western Massachusetts where she has worked as a lecturer in creative writing at Smith College and as a community mental health nurse.Her newest book, “On The Mercy Me Planet” has just been published by Blue Edge Books.

To order:

Radiant Tarot

This is a gloriously beautiful new Tarot deck, with images by Alexandra Eldridge. Her work is beloved of poets, and graces many book covers. You can immediately see why with this imaginative and brilliant deck. The book by Tony Barnstone gives archetypical context, and is a “pathway to creativity.”

With this in mind, Maternal Mitochondria did a spread as a part of our studio practice.

Old Enough

Old Enough

Last week, I was on a creative retreat in Pagosa Springs, Colorado with my daughter Isabel. There, I fell under the spell of the Japanese series “Old Enough” on Netflix. In it, tiny children run errands, and feel very accomplished and appreciated.
These adorable kids are still toddler-aged, or close to it. They have flags at the cross walks, which they wave as they cross. And guess what, so does Pagosa Springs!
It turns out I was identifying with these kids because…gasp…I was doing the grocery shopping. Something I do not do at home, where my husband Rich provides. I was as excited in City Market as the errand runners in Old Enough. They have an actual sushi chef! Gluten free dessert! Three kinds of chicken wings!
I had my shopping list. I was nervous, too. I missed things and had to go back. I crossed waving my yellow flag.
I’ll be 68 in a few days and it seems I’m…old enough.
Inspired by the show, I tried to get the real toddler, my grand-daughter G. aged 3, to take more responsibility on my return.
“Let’s clean up,”I said.
No. I don’t want to. I want a snack.”
“Throw out the trash in the bin and then you can have a snack.”
She complied, but that was all.
“We need to babysit the baby dolls,” she said.
“Why? Where is the mommy? Or the felt fairy that takes care of them?”
“Gone to Colorado,” G. announced. And that was the end of that.

3 Questions for Karla Linn Merrified

Interview with Karla Linn Merrifield

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.?
First, in my mind, the basic unit of a line is a breath. There can always be two breaths in a line, if there’s a caesura, or several breaths with additional commas or semicolons, which can create a sensation that the line is panting, propelling the reader toward the line break.
Second, many poetic forms dictate the length of a line, as with traditional sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, pantoums and Japanese forms such as tanka and haiku/senryu. But rules are meant to be broken sometimes, right? My most recent pantoum’s lines nearly extend from left to right margin.
With free verse, almost anything goes, and that’s where I am deeply attuned to the lines’ enjambments. If a line doesn’t close with end-stop punctuation, I seek the most powerful word to create the strongest line end that urges the reader to the following line. I want that voltage! That tension!
Enjambment is so critical to a poem’s success. When I was assistant editor at The Centrifugal Eye (now defunct, but still available online), a gig that lasted ten years, one of the most annoying failures I encountered among the 300-400 poems I reviewed for each issue, was flabby enjambment—lines that end with articles, prepositions or conjunctions—all down-right lame end-words. Hence my annoyance. Why would the poet waste the opportunity for a far more muscular end-word?
2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?
All poems begin in the body. An idea or a line or a stanza arises in our brains, traveling at lightning speed across countless neurons. Then, with a hand we take up the pen and scribble. Or with two hands tap away at our computer keyboard. Naturally, our eyes and ears become involved as we scan our lines and listen to the rhythm, hear the alliteration and assonance…. Even when we read a poem, brain, eyes, ears, and the hands holding the book or moving the mouse to scroll are involved. Tear ducts may activate. Or our brow as it furrows when we encounter something disturbing in the lines.
Although I write most of my prose pieces such as book reviews (and this interview) from scratch on my laptop, for poetry almost always I turn to the back pages of my Moleskine journal to create the poem through to a first draft.
When I move my felt-tip pen on the page, my ears hear each letter. In the act of writing, for example, the lower-case letter ƒ, with its elegantly balanced ascender and descender, I feel the ƒ, and instantly I hear the fricative ƒ sound. Hand-writing poems makes me so much more aware of both sonics and rhythm.

Also, despite the fine-ruled lines, when handwriting, I feel freer to capture snippets of my poem-to-be as they arise, often in a controlled jumble. Some lines or fragments may well end up in the middle or towards the end of the poem as in the above photo. I draw on those to assemble a rough draft, after which I move to my laptop to polish through many more drafts.
The relationship between my body and my writing came to the fore in my newest book, My Body the Guitar, where the body-writing dialectic emerges as a theme throughout the book. I found 72 references to “body” and its close relatives (e.g., embodiment) versus 209 references for “guitar,” the book’s most frequent noun. In one of my favorite poems in the book, as happens frequently, “body” and “guitar” are paired:

Étude 4-23: Embodiment on the Day I Changed
Strings for a Second Time

I want to hold somebody
I want to hold somebody
I want to hold some body

I want to kiss somebody
I want to kiss somebody
I want to kiss some body

I want to breathe on somebody
I want to breathe on somebody
I want my breath on some body
I want my sweat on somebody’s hands
I want my tears on somebody’s brow
I want my dew on some body

—and his on mine—but—
but it shall not be now
no matter my wants   his    yours

so I want my fingers rippling somebody
so I want my thighs cradling somebody
so my heart’s wants lift now some body: my guitar.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?
Tough question! I wracked my brain on this one. Getting rejections? Nah. Goes with the territory. The editing process? Nope. Ditto. Besides, I truly enjoy editing; it’s fun, like doing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. If anything, I don’t enjoy the frustration (low-grade, mind you) that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done I want to accomplish. But, then, that’s part of the human condition, not for poets alone. Bottom line: There’s really not anything I dislike about my poetic calling.

My Body the Guitar

A Bit Scary and Vulnerable

to post work that is in process. However, here is what Maternal Mitochondria has been working on during our ten day retreat.

Not finished. There will most likely be eight photos in total and they needed to be combined with text.

Take off your clothes. Climb into the hot pool.
Grow old.
Cling to a rock. Wave at Odysseus as he sails by.
The island of your body is nameless and not a sojourn for a sailor or poet

This is not a woman
turning into a seal or a seal turning into a woman.
A woman who will leave her human child and
turn back into a brown-eyed seal

How can I be solid in a world full of shaking molecules?
How can I be subject in a world full of either or?
I’ve overstated metaphor, how things are like each other
how you are like me

Every woman is an island.

Growing from the rock, firm tendrils spread
the crack, leaving nothing but dried ends

I heard what you were saying
but I was listening
to water underground

I have no passport
no zip code
no blood type
no marital status
no number of children

remove the veil, the shawl, your skin
replace with air and water
transform into yourself

I’m just clinging to this rock
then let go