In our girls’ school uniforms we watch “Un Chien Andalou” in the auditorium. I’d rather be in the bathroom, hanging out and smoking Balkan Sobranies with my friend Juliet. She favors the black ones with the gold filters. They taste of elsewhere. A hole opens in the man’s palm and ants crawl in and out. I’m unimpressed. We have plenty of ants, in every sandy crack in the sidewalk. My father is at war with all nature, setting mouse and ant traps all over the house. And yelling at us if we leave the sugar bowl uncovered. But he is losing the battle. An old mop abandoned on the back porch is colonized by yellow jackets who build a nest in its snaky Medusa head. My father’s three daughters swell from flat-chested childhood into the busty rebellion of womanhood. We roll up our uniform skirts and show our legs, a shadow between the thighs. We believe, for the first time, that we are real, and begin to act accordingly.
Luminosity by Miriam Sagan
Reviewed by Karla Linn Merrifield
Miriam Sagan’s newest poetry book, Luminosity (Duck Lake Books, 2019, 80 pages), is an eye-opening poetic experience that will leave you wanting more from the poet’s distinctive modern Renaissance mind. Most of us can remember the dramatic 2017 total solar eclipse, but I suspect none of us rendered the great celestial event into such wise, lyrical poetry as may be found in Luminosity. In “Woman, Sleeping I-20,” Sagan writes, “we are going to drive to Nebraska/ to see the total darkness” and we realize that by contemplating total darkness, we may also comprehend what it is to be bathed in total light, whether from the sun emerging from eclipse, or the moon—a recurring metaphor for light in darkness—or from Ceres and Orion’s belt in the night sky.
From the opening page, every poem brings its luminous reward. In the lead poem, “Book of Darkness,” we are told, “…light must close the cover/ on darkness.” Many are such quiet declarations we can ponder. In “A Funeral in Pawnee,” Sagan invites us to consider “the loneliness of beauty.” She also asks questions we need to answer for ourselves. Again from “A Funeral in Pawnee,” she asks, “what did I expect/ to be betrayed?/ and what supplies/ did I prepare/ from this betrayal?” Which betrayal? What supplies?! I’m still mulling over the concepts she addresses.
Luminosity delivers many moments of pure delight. One simply must smile when reading in “every poem,” “every poem/ should have some fireflies”.
The book also touches us with bittersweet flashes. In “Dunkin’ Donuts,” we read,
Each of us
carries a map of the day,
What does your map of this day look like? Where lie the creases and stains?
Prepare to be uplifted and transported in revelatory light–and shadow–from without as well as within “your different selves.” Miriam Sagan’s Luminosity invites you to contemplate not only the “loneliness/ of beauty,” but also “the architecture/ of suffering,” knowing, however, that “Buddha nature is everywhere” and that truth will always arise from “a fog bank/ of lies.” Luminosity is wildly, boldly illuminating.
Editor’s Note: Luminosity is available in trade paperback for about $16.00 and as an e-book for about $4.00 from most major booksellers.
It’s been a wonderful season for me for poetry chapbooks. First “Lama Mountain” came out from Red Bird Press and now “The Electric Palm Tree” from Flutter Press!
The poems–and essay–in The Electric Palm Tree were written several years ago at Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, Utah.
WHERE AM I?
In a landscape pitted and mined. At the edge of three million acres of the military’s bombing range. Where bombs are buried in undocumented locations. Where I can see old munitions mounds spreading out over the landscape like the ancient Mississippian city of Cahokia. Craters. Historic aircraft. A landscape big enough to lose a plane or a bomb in. A landscape that seems to make people want to drive really fast, crash into things, and blow them up.
On the boundary between Wendover, Utah and West Wendover, which is Nevada, and which sports casinos and strip clubs.
This isn’t exactly Walden Pond.
READERS– you can purchase this at: http://www.lulu.com/shop/miriam-sagan/the-electric-palm-tree/paperback/product-23288795.html
I am also giving away FREE REVIEW COPIES. You can have one to review on your blog, e-zine, magazine, or even something short on Lulu’s site under the book. Write me at email@example.com to request a copy.
Flutter Press is a micro publisher, which caught my attention. It has its roots in the small press movement of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but the technology is much prettier and faster than the stapled chapbooks of the day. I’ve been watching this for a while–seeing who can make something small and beautiful–so appropriate for poetry. Editor Sandy Benitez is of a new generation, and has created a simple and elegantly sustainable way to work. The press charges a reading fee–very modest by today’s standards–and if accepted Benitez works with the author on design and cover. The author gets books at a discount and royalties. They’ve got a nice list. My book had exactly the feeling I was looking for–an old deco-ish neon sign feeling–of a motel in the desert.
When I was an editor at Fish Drum Magazine with founder Robert Winson the mag and chapbooks were published off of a rather erratic household budget. Using pod totally sidesteps this–the publisher has no outlay beyond time, editing, and designing. Granted this is quite a bit, but most small press editors do it for love in any case. I’m working to bring the publishing arm of Miriam’s Well more consciously into a micro publisher mode.
My husband Rich has been brainstorming with my about this blog ever since it started. He said he had some questions, so I was thrilled to answer them. Part 2 coming later this week!
1. How did the blog originally fit into your mission statement, and how has that changed?
I’m charmed that you even know I have a mission statement! I picked this up from my work with personal coaching.
MIRIAM SAGAN’S MISSION STATEMENT:
–To engage with as many people as possible in creative projects
–To put poetry in unexpected places where it will expand the viewer’s perceptions
–To use metaphor as a way to create connection, community, and a sense of relationship with the world
–To focus on the ephemeral, sustainable, and inexpensive
I think basically the blog still functions the way it was originally intended to. However, at the start there was a learning curve about web presence and presentation. But I do need to focus on that again and again, as in the re-design last autumn.
It also gives me a way to be creative and share writing every single day, no matter what else is going o in my life.
2. Looking at your current list of categories, which one would you have found the most surprising when you started the blog?
I feel little out of touch with the categories. Baba Yaga and Patti Smith are the blog’s goddesses or guardians or totems, but those areas aren’t that active. Not exactly a category, but I was very surprised by the number of international contributors—that is in large part due to the ever increasingly active haiku community. So I’m surprised at how much the haiku and tanka section has grown.
3. What do you think is the biggest current gap in the blog’s coverage?
Millennial writers. I need more voices that are different than mine. I’d love more younger perspectives. I’ve had several fantastic contributing bloggers—Bibi Deitz and Michaela Kahn to name just two—who have a lot of readers. But I’d love more from the even younger generation. You’ll note my millennial contributors are often family members—nieces, nephews, daughter—who I’ve begged material from.
My greatest support comes from my on-going contributors and readers. I’ve been prpud to publish so many terrific writers, and enjoy their growth and careers.
Miriam’s Well is ALWAYS looking for poetry, short fiction, art, and musings, particularly as related to our categories and in the area of haiku and other forms derived from the Japanese. If you are interested in being a guest blogger at any time, write me at msagan1035@aol.
The Well also runs a series of interviews for poets who have published at least one book or chapbook. Contact me if you are interested in doing an interview.
Miriam’s Well welcomes announcements of art openings, poetry readings, and community evens. Do keep in touch, follow the blog, and best of all—comment!
A visit to the historic site–suitably on Memorial Day.
This poem is both about it directly, and about something more personal:
What if I waited
and you never returned
red flash of cardinal
What if I waited
and you never returned
wet tailless skink
What if I waited
and you never returned
bend in the road
a story of fame
What if I waited
and you never returned
sleep, death, salamander
What if you waited
and I never returned
in the shadow
of the crisscrossed swords
I hadn’t written any poetry in about six months, not since a creative outpouring at Wildacres residency. I didn’t notice at first, because I was so absorbed in juggling three book length projects: Bluebeard’s Castle (memoir, now a complete draft), 100 Cups of Coffee (prose and poetic musing, now about 25% underway), and The Future Tense of River (utopian feminist speculative novel which was inching its way from being a series of flash fictions to a full novel–the first 100 pages is drafted). I was completely absorbed, even a little panic-y. But then all three projects went from formless to partially complete.
Suddenly I noticed I wasn’t writing poetry, apart from haiku. I wondered if I could still do it. I started writing a bunch of short very off the cuff pieces, sometimes in the middle of the night. Five of them are published at https://formerpeople.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/five-poems-7/ and I’m copying a few below. Enjoy!
the house contains an ocean
living room furniture is islands
and even at low tide I have to wade
just to make myself
a cup of coffee
Our Lady of the Star,
small painted church,
names of the dead
hum with the sound of the sea
like a giant shell—
and the gravestones tilted
carved with mossy dates
ring like tossing buoys…
the angel landed
and clapped both hands
in front of my open eyes—
somewhere, deep in my body
stood up and started walking
I’m haunted by a weird—no doubt foolish—fear. My fear is that I have a terrible fault that I am totally unaware of but that everyone else notices—sort of like a wart on my nose.
Now, I—and everyone else in my life—am aware of my regular faults. I’m rude. I eat with my fingers. I can’t get through TSA without a fight or weeping. I’m impatient. I’m a careless housekeeper and an overly cautious driver. People honk me. No one says they can eat off my kitchen floor. I’m territorial. I like to tidy up and throw out other peoples’ things. I tend to leave apples cores and cooling cups of coffee in my wake.
On the deeper potentially worse level, if you believe in that kind of thing, I’m somewhat judgmental, have been known to gossip, and curse violently at the slightest provocation. I’m bossy, and usually think I’m right. Okay. This really doesn’t look that bad. It looks pretty average, pretty human. But what if I’m missing something?
My fear really took off when I started to write fiction more seriously. Fiction, story, after all is character driven—and usually that character has a flaw. I think my flaw is fear, but I find that more of an emotional illness—anxiety—than a fault. I don’t like it either. It’s been hard to change, though God knows I’ve tried. But it is the only flaw I even attempt to work on.
The truth is, I do nothing about my actual faults. Basically, I accept them. I like throwing things out. (As long as those things aren’t apple cores). I like cursing. I secretly believe rudeness is appropriate at TSA. Fits of self improvement don’t last very long. I don’t have any real intention of changing.
And quite possibly I don’t have a secret to me but known to others flaw. Maybe I’m an egomaniac who wonders what people are thinking of her when they are most likely thinking…ABOUT THEMSELVES. Wondering if I find them loud or rude or oddly dressed. But maybe not.
You can buy it on Amazon.
Here is a preview:
Fleeing The Nazis at The Riverdale Ice Skating Rink
I spent my childhood being terrified of Nazis. Oh, I was afraid of the Cossacks my grandparents ran from, and from the Russians who had missiles aimed right at my elementary school desk, but really it was my parents’ terror that haunted me the most. So, Nazis.
Being a practical child, I did fantasize solutions. Where would I hide? How would I run? Every Sunday morning, in winter, for many years, my father took us to the ice skating rink in Riverdale. I loved it there–the ice, the music, the hot chocolate, the bells and pompoms on my toes. Thanks to a weekly lesson with a guy named Vinnie, I was a pretty good ice skater.
So what did I think about as I skated round and round? Not a figure skating competition with me in an outfit. Not Holland, where I’d glide with Hans Brinker and his silver skates. No, Nazis. I’d skate to the music, all the while fleeing from storm-troopers. Of course, on an ice skating rink, you can’t really escape. So, mind following feet, I was trapped in a loop.
Once, coming back from the rink when I was nine, we heard the report– Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. There was an ad on the radio–”Who was the first to conquer space? Castro convertible!” Only years later did I realize the joke. We lived in a prim world where beds were beds and couches did not open. But Castro I knew, on an island that had missiles pointing at it or from it…It didn’t surprise me that he was now in the furniture business.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like a review copy.
Teaching—I’m SO In It For The Money
Recently I’ve noticed a discourse—across the state, across the nation—on public educators saying “we’re not in it for the money.” Or, conversely, other folks saying it to us.
I understand that this is meant to communicate:
Teachers are underpaid.
Teachers are idealists.
Teachers are not motivated by salary.
Well, two out of three isn’t bad. (Still a failing grade, though). But it isn’t good either. I’ve taught community college as an adjunct, half-timer, full time faculty, and 3/4 time faculty. I’ve been grateful for every cent I’ve earned. More than that, let’s be blunt, these earnings have been the difference between stability and economic disaster for me and my family.
No longer are teachers single school marms waiting for a cowboy to sweep us into domesticity. We support ourselves, our children, and our parents. Our salaries are economic development—we buy houses, and cups of coffee.
And here is something else—I never want my students to think I am indifferent to money. I’m not marginal, or Henry David Thoreau, or living on air. I share their concerns. I’d never tell THEM that they aren’t in it for the money.
I started wondering, who IS in it for the money? Obviously workers in terrible poor paying jobs—that’s survival. And investment bankers—maybe ”survival” of a less sympathetic kind. But folks the world over take pride in what they do—whether decorating a wedding cake or brain surgery—and yet no one tells bakers or surgeons “Well, you’re not in it for the, gasp, money!”
I would not do my job for free. Does that mean I am any less caring or committed a teacher? No, it does not.
So let’s stop saying we’re not in it for the money. A glance at our cars and clothes will tell you instantly how un-avaricious we are. But we need to care about our own basic needs. And I think this should come first before we can “afford” to care for others.