Delany Lemke, “November” and “Neandertal Songs”
I wrote "November" shortly after the 2016 election. I had been verbally harassed on campus more than once by groups of men because of the election, and I was watching the number of hate crimes rise as men in suits made toasts about their success in the election. My friends were all crying, because we knew what this meant for us. It felt like a nightmare for queer people, people of color, and other marginalized groups. Reflecting on this was and still is absurdly difficult and painful. Because of this, I decided to approach my concerns in a more surreal setting.
So, I included the boys shouting from their pickup truck. I included the hate crimes. I included the men celebrating. Then, in the end, I let the speaker escape from that reality through death and a return to nature through decay, where she’s taken in by these humming women. I gave her refuge in song and plants, where she’d really feel welcomed. Looking back, it reminds me how helpless I feel, because this was the only way I could imagine her finding peace.
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Thomas Farley, “Describing the Elephant”
Asked if the Jedi were real, Han Solo haltingly confesses that he once doubted it: “I used to wonder about that myself. Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. A magical power holding together good and evil, the dark side and the light. Crazy thing is—it’s true. The Force. The Jedi. All of it. It’s all true.”
“Describing the Elephant” challenges the reader to accept that the supernatural is real and all that understanding implies. Denying the paranormal is easy for anyone who hasn’t experienced it. For those of us that have, we struggle to relate what we’ve seen, heard, or felt. See More>>>
Joanna White, “Dressing for the Recital”
Fine details of “Dressing for the Recital” are reconstructed or imagined (we did not own a Big Wheel) but the frozen moment and the real thing my son said are indelibly etched, leading me both to view the scene through his eyes and to understand the effect his reaction had on my awareness of myself as a performer with an art to realize and transmit to an audience.
Monica Claesson, “Western Interior Seaway”
Having spent the majority of my life in Nebraska, I’ve developed a long list of complaints about it—from its lack of mountains, to its lack of progressive politicians, and everything in between. For these reasons, I’ve always invested my creative energy toward writing about everywhere except the Midwest.
Recently, however, something shifted. Once I finally made concrete plans to move away, I realized it was time to work toward some sort of poetic reconciliation with Nebraska. At this realization, I suddenly began to find inspiration from my home state. As much as I’m loath to admit it, there are a lot of things I truly do appreciate about the flatlands. In particular, the city of Lincoln has a certain charm that even people who have spent only a short amount of time here can recognize. See More>>>
Rosie Prohías Driscoll, “Prayer for Grace”
In times of desolation, I turn to Scripture and poetry. The poet Hopkins is a particular source of solace; his ability to express intense feelings of anxiety and doubt while holding on to faith comforts me when I am shrouded in darkness. During these times it feels like “grace comes not,” but I cling to hope that grace does come, just not as I expect, or, more importantly, desire. I may want the epiphany to appear in the burning bush or my parched soil to be flooded with rain, but God teaches me faith and patience by sending His grace in drops, almost imperceptibly, until consolation arrives to bear fruit in due time. I wanted the form of “Prayer for Grace” to reflect the meaning, the scarcity of words reflecting drops of grace. My hope is that the attention to scarcity will point toward abundance.
Chris Baker, “Bazaar”
I've always been fascinated with the "theater of the surreal"; my first gut reaction to art as a young boy was to Salvador Dalí. The idea for Bazaar came to me after watching "Smoke Signals," the film adaptation of an excellent Sherman Alexie novel—namely, that of our memories, emotions, secrets, and so forth being on display; for sale, perhaps, in an Old World trade-and-barter market. A great deal of that influence comes from the fact that each of us, as we come into adulthood, must define and reconcile who we thought our parents were with who they actually are as human beings. To understand others, especially those who may have caused you great pain, is to develop greater compassion for them, for yourself, and in turn for the world at large. I wrote three pieces out of that single moment. Since then, I've realized that good poets and writers, just as Stephen King is fond of saying, are conduits. We are the vessel, the pipeline through which beauty may flow. Our only calling, our conviction, our vocation, then, is to record and shape what we're given.
Kimberly Priest, “Learning to be a Healer”
I wrote “Learning to be a Healer” shortly after my move from Michigan to Texas this past year—a move that proved to be quite traumatic after years of dealing with an abusive spouse back home. The poem began as a handful of separate reflections inspired as I read the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, a young girl abducted by Comanches warriors from her pioneer home on May 19, 1836, who eventually married a Comanche chief with whom she had three children. She effectually became Comanche, fully assimilating into tribal life, until she was “rescued” by white men in 1860, witnessing the death of her husband and never seeing her two sons again.
Phyllis Carol Agins, “Hallelujah”
In Hallelujah, a modern day version of Jonah found me—with an elderly rabbi in the starring role. He has been the hero of his own story, but must accept the end of what came before, letting go of doubts and losses.
Magical realism is a favorite of mine: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, House of the Spirits. I’m not in any way Hispanic. But, maybe the myths of the Hassids form my collective memory; and it’s not such a reach from life in the Pale to Latin America. When I release the internal censor, magic realism arrives, providing a great deal of pleasure and a bit of fun—as if I’ve given myself permission to fanaticize out loud. What if God appeared in the storm-lit sky? What if the whale actually spoke? What if the most important of the dead were waiting in that belly, singing out acceptance after a lifetime of disapproval? See More>>>
Markus Jones, “Dissolution is that Bent Tree Culled from the Hillside”
Paying attention to the narrator of a poem is difficult sometimes, because poetry demands a certain perspective. My mother was diagnosed with a serious cancer many years ago. Surgeries and chemo and checkups lay before us. There were late night talks and early morning insomnias. She stayed heroic throughout. She claimed a steadfast resolve and held onto it. I wrote quite a bit over those years. Some of my writing, from my perspective, didn’t quite touch on the subject matter of her pain or fear. Instead it dwelled in a place of my personal sorrow. That never felt appropriate. She, after all, was enduring the indignity of it all. One night, a vague memory of when I was very young of my parents talking about trees behind the house surfaced. My father died some years before my mother’s diagnosis, but I realized he too had a voice in all of it. We share our lives briefly with each other. We don’t always get to say what we need to say, and often the mundane parts of our lives are great metaphors for all the things we wish we could say.
Aimee Bungard, “Cabbage” and “Fuzzhead”
‘Cabbage’ and ‘Fuzzhead’ are both part of a series of ink drawings I’ve been working on for a few years now. I’m approaching my botanicals as what I’ve taken to think of as energy portraiture. I’m giving a visual language to the ‘vibe’ of the plant, the life energy. Sometimes that looks like a personification of the plant, other times it manifests as a fantastical recreation of the botanical structure. Incorporating many stages of growth and maturity help to represent the subject as a whole story as opposed to a singular chapter in its existence. Typically, I choose a form that is either toward the beginning or end of the lifecycle and braid into the piece the former or latter stages of development, either through actual imagery or suggested movement within the posture of the subject. In the case of “Cabbage,” you see a secondary growth stage of seedling, reaching up and out with big swoops suggesting the final spherical finish of the adult vegetable. “Fuzzhead” is confident, marching with knowledge that old age brings as it offers out it’s seed heads to the universe for scattering, the cycle to begin anew.
Reena Shah, “Pretend Family”
I wrote “Pretend Family” thinking about a math project my students did this year. The class constructed a cardboard arcade for parents to play. It was a frenetic few weeks of blueprints, exacto blades, and glue gun burns. I remember one student becoming so frustrated that she rolled her eyes back in her head. That image stayed with me and became the seed of this story. Next came the narrator’s voice, which was both blunt and vulnerable, a child whose sense of self could swing from strong to fragile in moments. Her daily routine was filled with landmines, like the school bus, the recess yard, the classroom, home. Each place governed by a different set of rules and norms with which to struggle. I went through many drafts that tried to fill in her backstory, but ultimately, I realized that what I was really after were her thoughts and observations. Over time, a story finally emerged and became this one.
Jeremy Schnotala, “Faggot”
I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist family. Religion drenched every decision. The plumbing couldn't back up without it involving Jesus somehow. Sales at the Kroger were issued by God himself. I tolerated the faith healings and prophecies and hellfire sermons my entire youth, hiding my own gay apostasy with dogma. My life depended on it. I was thirty-five when I finally came out to my family and the result was everything I expected. What I ultimately remember of the whole thing was one of the last conversations I had with my mother. It was on the telephone and she was explaining why God wouldn’t permit her to allow my husband and I to come visit. "I was making goulash this morning, Jeremy," she said, "and the Lord spoke audibly to me." (Yes, she said audibly.) "He told me I can’t commune with the homosexual spirit. I have to stand by my God," she ended, emphasizing my. Who uses the word commune, I thought, and said goodbye. See More>>>
Christopher Carroll Crew, “March Madness,” and “My Dad Dies and I Concede”
I started using this form in writing about media—to differentiate what happened on-screen versus the real world—to try to show how my life has stitched together two fundamentally disconnected stories.
When poems about my father’s cancer started to fall into this form, it showed me something different: that half the story is sometimes the whole story, and sometimes a quarter of the story, and sometimes more true than what I’m telling myself. When one half of the poem said, “we/fucking/know/the needle,” that felt right in a way that managed to escape the obligations of meaning, and allowed me to see a bit more about the many truths buried within this one hour of one day.
This form has become a way to braid multiple ideas together while preserving the conflict between them.