Gentle Reminders of What Makes the Poetry Blogosphere Such a Great Place to Be:

  • I was lucky enough to take Jeannine Hall Gailey‘s online ¬†manuscript workshop this summer, and I can’t begin to tell you what a rich experience it was. There are plenty of resources, both online & in print, that give you advice on how to sequence a manuscript, but there’s nothing like having a close & intelligent & impartial & generous reader write long paragraphs of comments & constructive criticism about your poetry book-to-be. And there was the great boon of the other students’ readings as well. And the experience of reading others’ MSs with a critical eye, which helped me with my own, too. Jeannine’s offering this workshop again this fall. If you’re working on a manuscript, get thee to Jeannine! Because your MS deserves it.
  • If I’d ever had a writing professor in my life, I’d wish she was at least a little like Emma Bolden: passionate, creative, brilliantly fierce, and very very funny. If you haven’t yet heard the news, now Emma has created The Yawp — which seeks to get poetry out of the classroom and into the world, where it can really do some damage. Participation is not only encouraged, but the point itself. Poet up & spread the word.
  • Speaking of spreading the word, I’ve been so happy folks want to participate in a virtual Tupelo Poets on Parade ( I keep calling it this, because it makes me smile, but it may not be the official tagline. Stay tuned.). I’m still compiling volunteers, so if you want to host a review or interview on your blog, please, speak up! (mgauthier [at] tupelopress [dot] org)

Emma Bolden’s The Mariner’s Wife.

My daycare provider is down with the flu, and Vincent is still sleeping because he stayed up until I returned from the poetry reading last night, so I have this unexpected lovely time to luxuriate in this new book of poems.

Now I’m not going to pretend impartiality — anyone who reads this blog with any sort of regularity (anyone?) knows I’m a big admirer of Emma and her poetry — nor am I writing a review here really. I’m not especially good at that sort of writing, I’m afraid, which perhaps you’ve noticed — I’m too much the fan girl, and have no patience for things like plot summaries.

[Though I will insert here that I’m ever so sad that Michiko Kakutani gave Salman Rushdie a less-than-glowing review for his new novel, which I adored. But it was a well-written review, and while I disagree with her conclusions, it’s reasoned and respectful. This coming Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, on the other hand, includes a negative review that I just consider useless.]

That said:

It’s been a long time since I read a book of poems I felt so much affinity for and loved so much. The Mariner’s Wife, just released from Finishing Line Press, is about love, relationships, heartbreak, shopworn subjects that Emma invigorates by virtue of her rich language and the ingenious juxtaposition of the Mariner poems (“The Mariner,” “The Mariner’s Wife Dreams of Hands,” etc) with more seemingly personal poems, and others that tread the line between and bridge the gap. In fact, the sequencing of this chapbook is extremely instructive for any poet, it’s so masterfully done, with utterly seamless transitions.

I just love this book and urge everyone in the most strenuous terms to go to Finishing Line’s website and buy a copy for yourself — I promise you it will be the best poetry purchase you’ll make this year.

Below is one of those bridging-the-gap poems, which illustrates the energy and surprise of her lines, the sensuality and inventiveness of her diction:

What to Heed, What to Leave

In the first flush of fever I was a green dress
tying to be untied. You were fingers of pine

bark, a beard’s smooth scratch. You were the scent
of cardamom and silk. My pillows wore your name.

The village women called for amethyst, aventurine
for healing, an emerald disc over the heart o if

thine true love come. Too late. Packed my chest in ice,
my feet in snow. Bird wings circled a man

of danger. The stars spilled out the one
you’ll blame
. Too late. You were already a raw

wire within me, my own mind’s sputter and spark.

billet-doux.

Nick Bantock’s Griffin & Sabine books were the first, I think, to grant us the voyeuristic thrill of opening and reading other people’s letters. Many books have built upon the concept since, creating innovations of their own, notably Candlewick Press’ -Ology Series, but for the first time that I know of (please tell me if there are others!), poetry has gotten into the game with Dancing Girl Press‘ limited edition collection, billet-doux. And I am so excited about it!

billet-doux, originally planned to arrive by Valentine’s Day, comes in a shallow brown box: Fifteen different poets contributed one poem each, and, as I understand it, each poet was responsible for her own poem’s design. Fonts, type size, everything varies from poem to poem:

Enclosed in the taupe envelope (with a cool watercolor-redacted-poem label) with Bronwen Tate‘s “Dear Caleb, It’s 4:13 PM” is a recipe for zuni gateau victoire. Annie Finch‘s “Letter for Emily Dickinson” also makes use of watercolor, this time a sunset-colored palette.

The poem styles also run the gamut, from Annie Finch’s sure-footed rhymes to one of the best prose poems I’ve ever read, Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis’ “Dearest Mistake,,” printed on green opaque paper with the faint silhouettes of trees.

Suzanne Frischkorn‘s “Window” has one of the sparest designs, printed on the back of an index card, a pale blue swirl flanking the title, but this is not a criticism. It somehow matches the simple beauty of the poem: “Thrush birdsong: lacey throated stars.”

“Postcard with Language Barrier” by Kelli Russell Agodon comes in a printed air mail envelope addressed to Pablo Neruda, and the poem is indeed on a postcard whose picture looks to be an old black and white ad for the Smith Premier No. 4 Typewriter. “And when we love/ together, the bees groan.”

Emma Bolden‘s “Epistle I. Why I Can’t Write You a Love Poem” has a clever and skillfully drawn picture of a bird in a ribcage, which dovetails perfectly with her poem: “The heart itself knows/ it’s not a red-barred bird.” Dancing Girl Press is slated to publish a chapbook of Emma’s Epistles in the fall, and after this taste, I can’t wait.

Not everything works. There are a few whose designs may have sounded neat as ideas but whose executions made reading good poems difficult. And I didn’t love every poem. But that’s all to be expected with such a wide-ranging and adventurous collection. This is a limited edition, so I don’t even know if or how many copies are still available, but if you can swing it, I definitely recommend ordering one for yourself. I’ll be looking through mine, (taking care to keep it from Vincent, who cried a delighted, “Mail!” when he saw me open my box) for a long time to come. Congratulations to Dancing Girl Press and all the poets involved!