A Conversation of Courage and Hope

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A conversation of courage and hope between Fall Quarterly contributor Sonam Tsering and Sarah Kirstine Lain here.

Winter Quarterly 2019 Introduction

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“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”~ Thích Nht Hnh

Breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Hold for a count of seven. Exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. How do you feel? Calmer? This is one of the exercises prescribed by Dr. Andrew Weil, specializing in alternative and complimentary medicine. It is known that we breathe on average of 22,000 times a day. Every breath is a testimony to life, and because it brings in oxygen, it’s also a chance for healing, both physically and emotionally.

Native American culture believes our spirit is not connected until we take our first breath, and that it is a gateway to spirituality, serving as a bridge between mind and body. Because the breath is a natural place to put our attention it can easily be called upon to slow ourselves down. This is vital for the ever-increasing anxiety in our society.

Poetry is like breathing. Poet and educator Annie Finch writes, “lines of poetry the world over, whether based in accentual, syllabic, accentual-syllabic, tonal, or other prosodies, tend to come out about the same length—the length of a breath.”

Poetry, with its crafted lines, white space, imagery, rhythm, and voice give the reader an opportunity to breathe more slowly, deeply, and quietly. Many of the poems in this quarterly’s collection not only create the space for breath, but refer to this vital life-source.

 Sascha Feinstein recounts the fabled telling of how the Taj Mahal was conceived, and humorously points out: Like most “last breath” stories, this one’s a good lie:. But Neil Silberblatt’s ”The Visit (for Joe G.)” is not like most, and poignantly describes a hospital visit to his friend with terminal cancer where his friend’s lips are slightly open: …the door and lips/were both ajar,/parted slightly to let others/know you were still breathing. The idea of one’s “last breath” can be unsettling, overwhelming, and sad. How do we say good-bye? Silberblatt’s poem goes on to read: I wanted to rub your hands/or a rosary, but/did not know which knuckle or bead/represented grace/and which/the hour of our parting.

When Miriam O’Neal reflects on self in her autobiographical poem “Change” she recalls she felt the way the space between us/opened again, and closed, and opened/as simply as breathing. The breath is natural just as self-love should be natural. Sometimes, though, it’s not simple, and as Lori Levy proclaims in “Just This”, there may be No operas in my lungs today.

 Perhaps, as d.ellis phelps writes in “every bone”:

            every bone knows:                the underworld
                                                             tends its own

But Joan K. Harmon might say every bone also knows of its reliance on breath for movement and wonder as she questions in “On My 75th Birthday”: Is our life “The Hubble” that meditates/In ever-widening worlds?

We take breathing for granted, as we might take a janitor for granted. Contributor Danny Barbare is a janitor for his local doctor’s office, and he also writes poetry. His poem, titled ‘The Janitor” gives us a glimpse of the person behind the trash can. And Jeff Oaks gives us a glimpse of a mouse, a heart as small as in “The Mouse.” He describes his discovery, the pills of its waste like lint, and how he held his breath in the dim light of the middle of my life. Holding our breath presents an intense awareness of who we are or where we might be going. Again, breath meeting spirit. Just as Barbara Siegel Carlson admits in “Joseph Cornell Tries to Explain”: I lost myself, and my breath/couldn’t hold onto or let go of the bodies/of the stars that tore through it.

Miriam O’Neal praises the feathery snare of [her]husband’s breath in sleep. She ends this poem with a double chant: All Amens./All Amens. With the recent celebration of Thanksgiving and the joys of the holiday season near, I third that motion. Let us breathe deeper, slower, quieter. Let us give thanks to our breath and to life.

Wishing you all a wonderful season of joy and peace.

 

Christine

 

 

 

 

Christine Jones’ debut poetry book Girl Without a Shirt coming soon

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GWAS orig photo color corrected copy
cover art by Michael Jones

It’s been a long time coming. I’ve shaped and reshaped the poems  in this collection over many years, beginning with my early entry into poetry with poet Gigi Thibodeau, my first mentor, through to Lesley University’s MFA program working with the many talented and supportive faculty there: Erin Belieu, Teresa Cader, Sharon Bryan, Joan Houlihan, Kevin Prufer, Adrian Matejka,  Cate Marvin, and Steven Cramer, to continuing my thesis and refining my craft with further mentoring by Erin Belieu, and Kevin McLellan and his Cambridge-based poetry workshop, not to mention the unwavering encouragement and support from my dear poet colleagues Eileen Cleary and Sarah Lain.

The book has worn many titles, but it wasn’t until I was sitting shirtless on a table in the plastic surgeon’s office after my mastectomy and reconstruction that it found its name.

Being a girl without a shirt represents many of the stages of my life: as a child when I’d run in the backyard without a shirt to be like my brothers, as a woman discovering my sexuality, and later love, as a mother nursing her child, and more recently as a breast cancer survivor. It symbolizes innocence, vulnerability, confidence, and courage.

This collection is intimate. It gives voice to many moments in my life when voice failed me; and to many of our world’s tensions that have me spinning. What emerged for me during the writing of this book is that life and love is complicated, that people hurt one another, but more importantly we love one another and are capable of great kindness.

Poems2go has been a way for me to help others’ voices be heard as they observe, explore, and experience the world. It’s been an enlightening five years and it makes me happy to share what others are doing and feeling.

I am blessed.  My husband and I live by the ocean and we can experience joy (happiness without reason) every day, together. The book has many references to the ocean and the natural world. It is where I turn to pray and give gratitude.

 

Pre sales have begun and will run through Nov. 22, 2019. Here’s where you can order:

https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/girl-without-a-shirt-by-christine-jones/

 

Thank you for reading!

Christine

Fall Quarterly Special Edition: Student Poetry

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During my visit to O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India in April, I gave a presentation on “Poetry in the Public Sphere” to a group of students from professor Nandini Dhar’s literature class. Nandini, herself, is a published poet, and was particularly interested in Poems2go and how to make poetry more accessible to the public in India. During the talk I noticed the young man (he was the only male in the group) smiling slightly, but I couldn’t tell if it was something clever I was saying, or if he was nervously trying to control his reaction to a Get me out of here moment.

Many of the students had questions. It was rewarding to share conversations about poetry with emerging voices from another culture across the globe. The young man was quiet. As I prepared to leave, he approached me, and without a word showed me his phone. It held a poem he had written. I was pleasantly surprised, happy that he was comfortable enough to share it. Turns out he had more poems. I encouraged him to submit to P2g and he did the very next day. The student, Ksanbah Lyngwa, submitted three poems. “Walls” is the poem he showed me that day.

On this same trip, I met Sonam Tsering, the Tibetan student whose journey from his homeland inspired P2g’s Summer Quarterly theme and introduction. He, too, writes poetry. Now, I was determined to provide a forum for these two young men’s voices. I decided to make this quarterly edition a special feature: Student Poetry.

I knew my poet friend and previous P2g contributor, Marjorie Thomsen, was involved with teaching poetry to young students. She was Maine’s Berwick Academy’s poet-in-residence this year. She and Melissa Williams, teacher at Berwick Academy, shared their students’ chapbook. In this edition you’ll read works from eighth and ninth graders, including Belle Greenshileds, Noah Rich, Cole Roenick, and Isabella Gorman. They studied and were inspired by Carl Sandburg’s poetry and wrote their own poignant, soulful poems. It’s both sad and uplifting to read what’s on their minds.

I’m also happy to introduce two more promising voices: Penelope Summerall, a Tufts University undergrad, and Lexy Roberts from Utah State University. Interestingly, also telling, is how Summerall’s “Seeing Yellow” talks of walls as Ksanbah Lyngwa, from India does. Literal or metaphorical, walls create division, and often lead to feelings of isolation, confusion, and pain.

Yet fortunately there is still optimism in youth. In her mind, the world was open, writes Summerall in “Wasp Hives.” They have questions as in Noah Rich’s “Questions,” but they are patient as in Isabella Gorman’s “I Wait.” Lexy Roberts realizes the great task of caring for our world is uncomfortable as she states in ‘A poem about that one time I held a yoga ball above my head thinking of a god tasked with holding the earth.”

After reading these emerging voices and others I am hopeful, as I often am when I attend a graduation. The world is full of bright, sensitive, and empowered young individuals with voices to be heard and with changes to make.

Thank you to all the students who contributed poems to this special feature and to the teachers and professors teaching the power of poetry.

In conclusion, I’d like to share Marjorie Thomsen’s poem about her time spent with the students of Berwick Academy. Students truly are a gift to our future.

Thanks for reading,

Christine

The Illumination of You by Marjorie Thomsen

To the students and faculty of Berwick Academy using all the paint chips attached to my bouquet

One of you chose maraschino to describe jello and so
your poem sparked, did a jello-hello jig.
And then there was piccololeap, beachsass, and bookbloom—

more delicious than delicious in the mouth. Merging words
with his, Sandburg’s poem became yours: a cupcake
crowned with red velvet icing.

Speaking of red, no one owns strawberry
sunshine; we can all use the new spring sky, the hue
of whale song. You shared your words

the way flowers spread their plum perfect
purple. Maybe poems are really pieces of sea glass, delicate
beauties to collect, allowing us to reminisce. Let’s put coffee-

colored sand or a school bus in a poem or invent
a fresh season—a brain teaser to tap dance
in the world’s head. Keep walking

your forget-me-not walk to the front of the room, keep being
the whole enchilada, an ultraviolet blossom. To me, you are a coin
splashing in a wishing well, the cotton candy stuck to my heart.

In case you missed it…P2g interview with Lucy Griffith

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Because September has me reorganizing and revisiting I realize I missed posting about our wonderful interview with one of our contributors, Lucy Griffith. Her book, We Make a Tiny Herd (Main Street Rag, 2019) explores the life of Judy Magers, aka La Reina or the Burro Lady. During her travels in West Texas she would see La Reina and wonder about her long after passing her on the side of the road. She began to inquire. What she found was a community, protective and loving of this woman who chose to live outdoors with her burro. Life is about choices. She recalls: I was struck by how the far-flung community of West Texas not only respected La Reina’s right to be different, to be private, but celebrated her differences. 

We Make a Tiny Herd is a wonderfully simple story in verse about home, about self, about choice, and about respecting our differences. It’s a story that will travel with you.

Thank you Lucy, for sharing your thoughts and inspirations.

Christine

 

Fall Quarterly Special Edition: Student Poetry

Posted on Updated on

During my visit to O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India in April, I gave a presentation on “Poetry in the Public Sphere” to a group of students from professor Nandini Dhar’s literature class. Nandini, herself, is a published poet, and was particularly interested in Poems2go and how to make poetry more accessible to the public in India. During the talk I noticed the young man (he was the only male in the group) smiling slightly, but I couldn’t tell if it was something clever I was saying, or if he was nervously trying to control his reaction to a Get me out of here moment.

Many of the students had questions. It was rewarding to share conversations about poetry with emerging voices from another culture across the globe. The young man was quiet. As I prepared to leave, he approached me, and without a word showed me his phone. It held a poem he had written. I was pleasantly surprised, happy that he was comfortable enough to share it. Turns out he had more poems. I encouraged him to submit to P2g and he did the very next day. The student, Ksanbah Lyngwa, submitted three poems. “Walls” is the poem he showed me that day.

On this same trip, I met Sonam Tsering, the Tibetan student whose journey from his homeland inspired P2g’s Summer Quarterly theme and introduction. He, too, writes poetry. Now, I was determined to provide a forum for these two young men’s voices. I decided to make this quarterly edition a special feature: Student Poetry.

I knew my poet friend and previous P2g contributor, Marjorie Thomsen, was involved with teaching poetry to young students. She was Maine’s Berwick Academy’s poet-in-residence this year. She and Melissa Williams, teacher at Berwick Academy, shared their students’ chapbook. In this edition you’ll read works from eighth and ninth graders, including Belle Greenshileds, Noah Rich, Cole Roenick, and Isabella Gorman. They studied and were inspired by Carl Sandburg’s poetry and wrote their own poignant, soulful poems. It’s both sad and uplifting to read what’s on their minds.

I’m also happy to introduce two more promising voices: Penelope Summerall, a Tufts University undergrad, and Lexy Roberts from Utah State University. Interestingly, also telling, is how Summerall’s “Seeing Yellow” talks of walls as Ksanbah Lyngwa, from India does. Literal or metaphorical, walls create division, and often lead to feelings of isolation, confusion, and pain.

Yet fortunately there is still optimism in youth. In her mind, the world was open, writes Summerall in “Wasp Hives.” They have questions as in Noah Rich’s “Questions,” but they are patient as in Isabella Gorman’s “I Wait.” Lexy Roberts realizes the great task of caring for our world is uncomfortable as she states in ‘A poem about that one time I held a yoga ball above my head thinking of a god tasked with holding the earth.”

After reading these emerging voices and others I am hopeful, as I often am when I attend a graduation. The world is full of bright, sensitive, and empowered young individuals with voices to be heard and with changes to make.

Thank you to all the students who contributed poems to this special feature and to the teachers and professors teaching the power of poetry.

In conclusion, I’d like to share Marjorie Thomsen’s poem about her time spent with the students of Berwick Academy. Students truly are a gift to our future.

Thanks for reading,

Christine

The Illumination of You by Marjorie Thomsen

To the students and faculty of Berwick Academy using all the paint chips attached to my bouquet

One of you chose maraschino to describe jello and so
your poem sparked, did a jello-hello jig.
And then there was piccololeap, beachsass, and bookbloom—

more delicious than delicious in the mouth. Merging words
with his, Sandburg’s poem became yours: a cupcake
crowned with red velvet icing.

Speaking of red, no one owns strawberry
sunshine; we can all use the new spring sky, the hue
of whale song. You shared your words

the way flowers spread their plum perfect
purple. Maybe poems are really pieces of sea glass, delicate
beauties to collect, allowing us to reminisce. Let’s put coffee-

colored sand or a school bus in a poem or invent
a fresh season—a brain teaser to tap dance
in the world’s head. Keep walking

your forget-me-not walk to the front of the room, keep being
the whole enchilada, an ultraviolet blossom. To me, you are a coin
splashing in a wishing well, the cotton candy stuck to my heart.

 

P2g Summer Quarterly 2019: On Home

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When D.A. Powell’s “The Imaginal Stage” reminds us there are more planets than stars/more places to land/than to be burned, I take this as a hopeful statement, as in more places to stand, more places to call, or at least to feel, like home.

Most clichés reveal an element of truth. After a month-long visit to India, I was ready to return home. My husband and I stayed our last few days of travel in beautiful Goa in the southern region, along the Arabian Sea. Because of its coast, it felt most like home than any other region we had travelled to. We were able to enjoy swimming and surfing there much like we do in our coastal town. I felt a serenity that only comes with the familiarity of home, when you feel your heart at ease.

We met many wonderful, warm, and welcoming people during our stay on campus at O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU) where my husband taught as a Fullbright/Nehru Specialist. After the initial overload to the senses and recovery from jet lag, we found a rhythm and I could sincerely say I’d miss our new friends. Still, I was longing for home. But I learned on that trip how fortunate I was to have a home to return to. At JGU, we met Sonam Tsering, a Tibetan refugee studying for his MA in Public Policy. He’s been in exile for fifteen years and can’t return home since he was smuggled illegally out of Tibet so he could study under His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. He writes of his refugee experience:

“The saddest thing about being a refugee is that there is nothing around you that you own and even the heart and mind choose to run away every now and then towards the homeland.”

Perhaps because I was missing home while curating this summer quarterly’s collection of poems, I found a thread of longing in each one. It was certainly easy to pick up in Lucy Griffith’s poem, “Attention” where its first line reads:

Home—the place of attention.

In her second featured poem, “Queen Yucca”, she imagines the yucca tree as a landmark for the lost, providing for the wanderer what a home often does: food, water, shelter. Then we have “Girl as Birch” by Rebecca Kaiser Gibson. I wondered what home for a girl portrayed as a tree might mean. Could it be a resilience as this poem speaks of? The springing back, after being pushed from the path could signify the insistence to return to one’s rooted place. But does this necessarily mean it’s where our roots are? For Sonam, the answer is yes. He considers Tibet his homeland. For me, it’s the American northeast. And for many of the Indians I met, from all castes, their answer, too, was yes. Given India’s long history of fighting for independence, their homeland pride runs deep.

When the speaker in Elizabeth Coleman’s “The Errand” hears the dialect of a foreign language in a neighborhood filled with pictographs she loved but could not read; the German sibilant obscenities remind her of her ties at home; her toddler grandson’s consonant-clustered thanks. For Samantha Kolber, and her fellow Vermonters, it is written in [their] bones. Though sometimes, the bones are in undesirable cities. As in the Indian poet Nandini Dhar’s “Intimate Ossuaries” a city’s kept bones are chronicled by a young girl, but No one will buy this portrait of a city’s/detritus: no museum will light her way home.

An ancient tribe from the New Mexico region known as the Mimbres depicted their culture’s story in clay with geometric markings. Edison Dupree’s “Paint on Clay: Homage to the Mimbres” tells of  their bowls, often used for burial ceremonies,  with holes cut out, to allow their souls to come and go: Soul could ride on a grain of sand,…or just as happily/fall, in raindrop’s belly,…or drift away and never return. One could say for the Mimbres, home was where the soul was.

The couple, in “Brace’s Cove” by Jay Featherstone, during a walk along the beach, encounter a thigh-high city made of pink and gray granite, home to druid figures piled up from rocks. The speaker muses about the inhabitants, how they tilt their oval shoulders/as if it were bad luck to say: so close to paradise. William R. Stoddart’s paradise in his poem “Through Such Blue” consists of a sky so blue that I ache thinking of that silent/glide through a mute town.

Home is considered more often a feeling than a structure. “It’s where we stand, not where we sleep” says British-born American essayist and novelist, Pico Iyer. Sonam Tsering misses his homeland, but in its absence, he stands among the Tibetan refugees and finds some solace. In India, seven thousand miles from home, I found comfort beside my husband, nearest the sea.

Hoping you, too, find comfort in these poems of longing, wonderment, and attention.

Warmly,

Christine