“That brightness—half-/particle, half-ineffable—might save us all” ~from “A Wish Geometry” by contributor John Belk.
In the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to look toward the light, to find the brightness in these scary times when the world feels isolated and bleak. Though we are more afraid of our light than we are of our darkness as author, activist, and spiritual counselor, Marianne Williamson says, poetry, throughout civilization, has helped herald the light we need. This spring quarterly edition of P2g features ten poets who write of light in all its glory, and contrasts. Ben Terry, a prison inmate serving a life sentence without parole gives us insight into a life void of hope, yet shows that despite his circumstances, it is mankind’s nature to seek light. He explains of his poem “Bright Future” that “three years into serving the sentence of life without parole, I had a King Solomon moment one morning where the shortness of life and wasted opportunity overwhelmed me as I stared out the window. Yet in short order I was forced to laugh, because apparently half of me seemed obliviously optimistic.”
Bright Future by Ben Terry
This morning I saw the sun
Give rise to a string of stars,
Laid like a garland atop the barbwire
Outside my window
With one eye drowning in my flattened pillow,
I watched and counted.
Nine minutes from conception to death.
Nothingness, brilliance, nothingness.
An entire generation of light
Passed like morning wood.
Only a poet could highlight The Neon Museum as a boneyard where lights go to die. In “My Las Vegas” Alexis Ivy bears wisdom when her observation meets imagination. It’s where the real and ideal touch. It’s the nothingness after the brilliance as Ben Terry observes.
Peter Meinke, Florida’s poet laureate, recognizes light’s loving power when he writes of the combs of his lover’s hair blazing on the desk, reflective as the shells of Bermuda as he reminisces: There are moments in every day/when a hunger seizes and the hands tremble. Helen Pruitt Wallace, reinforces the will of survival, as she describes the grinding of an old oak stump, …muscling toward cracks/ of light while Constance Merritt pairs light loved in one of her two-word only lines shaping her poem “Winter.”
Images of lemons lit in the kitchen bowl of Rage Hezekiah’s “Layers” portray the softness and love of a mother who once made such gentle things. Again, it is within human nature to seek the bright spots, despite dark sadness. This contrast stands out in Kay Bell’s “Sisters” portrayal of Two girls,/ light/dark, seasoned with dilemmas,/looking for love and pain… And if we forget of love, Keith Althaus reminds us; let there be just enough/to make you think,/standing on the curb,/waiting for the light/of me, and us.
In the still chilly days of early spring, my favorite chair in the house is in the living room, next to my husband, near the fireplace. The fire draws me close because of its light and warmth. I feel safe and protected. And when I’m swimming in the still chilly waters of the warming spring ocean, again next to my husband, I search for the sun peeking through the clouds to urge me on. Michael T. Young understands the power of both in “The Risk of Listening to Brahms.”
I like action movies for the same reason
I like Brahms, or undiluted scotch,
the constant flux of the sea,
or the sun’s light and heat stripped down,
to raw fire, to the burning sine qua non,…
Love and light are stronger than fear. That’s what I teach my children. It’s what poetry teaches us.. Many thanks to this season’s contributors, and to our readers.
May we live in sunshine!
Please join Peter Meinke, Jen Karetnick, Carlo André, and Christine Jones for a reading at one of Poems2go earliest host venues, Black Crow Coffee Shop on Saturday, Feb. 22nd @ 7 pm
Peter Meinke was the first Poet Laureate of St. Petersburg, and now is Poet Laureate of Florida. He has eight books in the Pitt Poetry Series, the latest being “Lucky Bones” (2014). He’s published two books of short stories, “The Piano Tuner,” which received the 1986 Flannery O’Connor Award; and “The Expert Witness” (2015). A collection of his essays, “To Start With, Feel Fortunate’” received the 2017 William Meredith Award. Other awards include a Fulbright professorship, 2 NEA Fellowships, 3 prizes from the Poetry Society of America, and many others. He and his wife, the artist Jeanne Clark Meinke, have lived in St. Petersburg for over fifty years. His most recent book, illustrated by Jeanne, is “Tasting Like Gravity” (U. of Tampa Press, 2018).
Jen Karetnick is the author of five full-length poetry collections, including Hunger Until It’s Pain (Salmon Poetry, forthcoming spring 2023); The Burning Where Breath Used to Be (David Robert Books, forthcoming August 2020); and The Treasures That Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016), finalist for the 2017 Poetry Society of Virginia Book Prize. She is also the author of five poetry chapbooks, including The Crossing Over (March 2019), winner of the 2018 Split Rock Review Chapbook Competition. Her poems have been awarded the Hart Crane Memorial Prize, the Romeo Lemay Poetry Prize, the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize, and two Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prizes, among others. Her work appears recently or is forthcoming in Barrow Street, The Comstock Review, december, Michigan Quarterly Review, Terrain, and elsewhere. Co-founder and managing editor of SWWIM Every Day, Jen is currently a Deering Estate Artist-in-Residence. Find her on Twitter @Kavetchnik and Instagram @JenKaretnick, or see jkaretnick.com.
Carlo André is a Hispanic-American poet and Iraq war veteran living in Florida, who writes poetry as a form of frustrating therapy and as a reaching out for the world unknown that sometimes language provides.
Christine Jones is founder/editor-in-chief of Poems2go, an international public poetry project, and an associate editor of Lily Poetry Review. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and online, including 32 poems, cagibi, Passager Books, Sugar House Review, Blue Mountain Review, Ruminate, Mom Egg Review, Literary Mama, Salamander; also broadcasted on WOMR’s Poet’s Corner, and WCAI”s Poetry Sunday. Her debut poetry book, Girl Without a Shirt (Finishing Line Press, 2020) has just been released.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
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 complementary 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.
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:
Thank you for reading!
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,
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.
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.