2015 Favorites: Stephanie Hammer

It’s that time of year!  We’ve asked guests and contributors we’ve featured on The Blood-Jet Writing Hour in 2015 to share with us their favorite books, literary magazines, and reading series from the year.

This post features poet Stephanie Hammer.  She writes:

Favorite magical realist novel: Ryka Aoki, He Mele A Hilo

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Favorite self-destructing poetry collection: Chiwan Choi, GHOSTMAKER

Favorite fictional dog book: Andre Alexis, Fifteen Dogs

Favorite somewhat sexual podcast about fictional crushes: hearteyes

Favorite poetry writing prompts blog: John Brantingham’s 30 Days til Done

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Favorite town visited in China with huge Buddha statue: Laitan

Favorite about to be published poetry chapbook by former student: Angela Peñaredondo, Maroon

 Favorite new literary journal: mud city

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Favorite reading recommendation: Vickie Vertiz recommending Reyna
Grande’s The Distance Between Us

Favorite performance art podcast series about global warming: Heather Woodbury, As The Globe Warms

 

Favorite local bookstores:

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Los Angeles: Chevalier Books

Port Townsend: Writers Workshoppe

***

stephanie

Stephanie Barbé Hammer has published work in Mosaic, The Bellevue Literary Review, Pearl, NYCBigCityLit, Rhapsoidia, CRATE, and the Hayden’s Ferry Review among other places. She has been nominated for a Pushcart prize 4 times in poetry, fiction and nonfiction categories. She published her first novel in 2015, THE PUPPET TURNERS OF NARROW INTERIOR (Urban Farmhouse Press). Her other books include the prose poem chapbook Sex with Buildings (Dancing Girl Press, 2012) and a full length poetry collection HOW FORMAL? (Spout Hill Press, 2014). Stephanie is an award winning teacher and Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Riverside. She now teaches at writers’ associations, conferences, galleries, bookstores and most recently, at two private universities in China.

“Safekeeping the Stories We Cannot Turn Out into the Night”: On Michelle Peñaloza’s Landscape/Heartbreak

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By Leah Silvieus

Some years ago, the Scientific American[1] published a piece on a study that showed that music has the ability to affect the human heartbeat. Like a Verdi aria that causes the heartbeat to synchronize with the music, Michelle Peñaloza’s Landscape/Heartbreak (Two Sylvias Press 2015) walks beside us through journeys of loss across the city of Seattle. As she writes in the opening essay of the collection:

And what happens to words when walking with someone? Walking changes the quality of conversation. Your bodies have something to do: the distance you traverse together, the observations you make, fill any silence, and yet—silence becomes more acceptable. Even comfortable. Walking side by side for miles, your breath and stride fall in time together. Your heart works in tandem with the other heart walking beside you.

Peñaloza’s idea for the project began simply enough, as she writes on her website: “my heart broke and I went on a very long walk.” What has followed is a frank and tender meditation on trauma, memory, and the relationship between inner and outer landscapes:

What kind of story can a city tell if this isn’t just the corner of Broadway and John, but the corner where X learned that Y never really loved him? Or if this isn’t just the hospital across the street, but the place where Z told her mother she loved her for the very last time? How does access to the narratives of the people in a city change the way we experience that city’s physical landscape?[2]

During the year Peñaloza worked on the project, she accompanied 22 friends, friends of friends and strangers as they retraced the paths across Seattle where their hearts had been broken. All of the walks began at the Hugo House in the Central Capitol Hill neighborhood and covered almost 120 miles.

Throughout this collection, Peñaloza walks alongside her readers, encouraging them to listen – not only to what did happen, but also to what did not: “The plot is over but still we mull / the coulda, woulda, shoulda / even as the oceans rise and the petals fall. You might have stayed with him forever.” There are myriad traumas ghosting behind these poems: “people who’d lost children and mothers and fathers and lovers, who’d been traumatized by the hate of others, who’d been cheated on and lied to, who’d cheated and lied, who’d been fearful and brave.” (“Notes from the Field”) Landscape/Heartbreak also addresses those heartbreaks we cannot name: “Of course I pray to you. Bending low my head / silently pleading for what I can’t ever seem to find: / the few, right words, the ones that could be enough,” she writes in “Prayer to the Patron Saint of All Lost.”

The beauty and raw precision of the language in Peñaloza’s collection evokes the feeling that one is physically and emotionally walking beside her and her fellow heartbreak walkers. “We touch the Scotch broom and lilacs / erupted in spring, notice the renegade ferns / growing upon the stumps of old docks,” she writes in “We Walk a Heart Around Lake Union.” The cadence and clarity of Peñaloza’s images carry an almost palpable weight: “Because of the lentils in jars, the hydrangeas drunk on pennies, the grafted apple trees, the Italian plums, and Rainier cherries,” she writes in a prose poem, “A Strange Constellation of Desires,” “Because he told me he loved me. Because I believed him.”

We can never feel the losses of Landscape/Heartbreak as acutely as those people who suffered them firsthand. Peñaloza, however, gives us these sorrows in the form of hydrangeas, neon signs and rusted nails and asks us to hold them, to sit with them, to feel the weight of their stories – even, or especially, if we aren’t sure what to say in response. As she says in her introduction: “Don’t say you understand. Don’t say everything is going to be okay. Do not ever say that things happen for a reason. Say nothing. Listen.”  Reading this collection is as heartbreaking as its title promises, but it is also a prayer of intercession for lost things and for the aspects of ourselves that we lose along heartbreak’s journey. Everything might not be okay. We might never understand. We might not find a reason behind our suffering. Landscape/Heartbreak knows all of this and still accompanies us along the difficult way, assuring us that we need never walk alone.

 

[1] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/music-therapy-heart-cardiovascular/

[2] http://www.michellepenaloza.com/theidea/

***

leah1

Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus is a poet and interdisciplinary artist whose work has been featured at the O, Miami Poetry Festival and at the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco. She also has received grants and fellowships from Fulbright, Kundiman, US Poets in Mexico, and the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation. Her writing has been featured in Asian American Poetry & WritingCURAThe Collagist, and diode, among others. Currently, she divides her time between Florida and New York where she works in the yacht hospitality industry. You can visit her athttp://leahsilvieus.wordpress.com/

“Between a Season of Desire and a Season of Dust” : Suzanne Bottelli’s The Feltville Formation

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By Leah Silvieus

Suzanne Bottelli’s The Feltville Formation (Finishing Line Press 2015) is ambitious. Within the chapbook’s slim 26 pages, Bottelli, who was born and raised in New Jersey, reaches from the state’s geologic history in the first poem, “To a Rogue Boulder in Sunlight,” into the present day. While tracing the industrial and cultural history of the area, Bottelli deftly unwinds the genealogy of what has made not only New Jersey, but also the country as a whole, “go and grow”– and its consequences. In collection’s title poem, we glimpse a billboard: “[…] a white man in a cap  / pours the milky bucketful above a rooftop: / PAINT WITH EAGLE PURE WHITE LEAD.” The image conjures a “milky” and superficially wholesome, vision of American industry, but one that is also heavy with connotations of literal whitewashing and its poisonous aftermath.

In the collection’s second poem, “Ironbound,” Bottelli walks the reader backward through a complex litany of industrial and environmental development: before “the waterfront renewal project / with its green playfields and jumpsuit orange boardwalk,” before “the days when reactor boil-over / was hosed down the old blood troughs and into the river,” there was the founding of Lister Agricultural Chemical works, whose purpose was “to grind up bones for glue and grease (to make things go), / and for feeding the soil, to make things grow.” Bottelli reminds us that the visions of the past often fuel the present – literally, in this case.

Bottelli’s infusion of childhood memories makes the collection as intimate as it is ambitious, and that is perhaps the chapbook’s greatest strength as it vitalizes the links between past and present. One of the most striking poems in the collection is “Fort Lee, NJ: July 4, 1976,” in which the child narrator presents New Jersey in a surreal and cinematic flash: cash “fluttering like green birds from above,” “the summer air jubilant with sirens,” “[s]chooners plying the destroyed river,” “a woman with a frosted swoop of hair / perched on the bench of her very own Wurlitzer.” “What a party,” Bottelli writes, “Two hundred years / in the blink of an eye.” Toward the end of the collection, Bottelli invites the reader to appreciate the present moment through the immediacy that often only a child can have:

 

“As when the mind starts sifting,
like a kid with a lifted window screen,
for the glints and grains that might give

delight before the whole show
is over – […]”

 

How quickly the present moment is over; how quickly we move through time. While awareness of the present moment may not necessarily be a remedy for the oversights and errors of the past, The Feltville Formation seems to suggest that such awareness may be a small step toward creating a livable future – as our present inevitably becomes our past.

***

leah1

Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus is a poet and interdisciplinary artist whose work has been featured at the O, Miami Poetry Festival and at the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco. She also has received grants and fellowships from Fulbright, Kundiman, US Poets in Mexico, and the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation. Her writing has been featured in Asian American Poetry & WritingCURAThe Collagist, and diode, among others. Currently, she divides her time between Florida and New York where she works in the yacht hospitality industry. You can visit her athttp://leahsilvieus.wordpress.com/

In the Beginning (After the End): on T.J. Jarrett’s Ain’t No Grave

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By Leah Silvieus

T.J. Jarrett’s Ain’t No Grave (New Issues Press 2013) calls our attention to the apocalypse that was the legacy of American racism and slavery and then culls from its ashes the bones that would sing themselves beyond the grave. The collection is less elegy than post-apocalyptic creation story: “Come now,” she writes in “Interrobang,” the opening poem of the collection, “Interrogate the mixing bowl  / of my throat. Claim what is left in it.”While Jarrett’s voice is one of the most beautiful lyrical voices I’ve encountered recently, these poems’ beauty does not soften their ability to strike at the heart. Jarrett’s encantatory lyricism is both fierce and tender; her songs call us to face the history of atrocity with the most human aspects of ourselves.

One of the most moving poems of the collection is titled, “My Father Explains the History of Sugar, the Middle Passage and Slavery to My Brother, Age 5, over Breakfast,” which I will quote here in its entirety because to break it up for the sake of quotation would be to undermine the poem’s powerful and elegant lyrical structure:

The history of sugar is the history of skin.
Consider this bowl, filled with sugar.
This glass, filled with milk.
Your body, the value of the body –
filled with all you can make of it.
Would you trade that body for sugar
when you hunger, or the milk
when you thirst? How about someone
else, your sister, another body?

Say you wouldn’t.
Know you would.

Often throughout the collection, Jarrett’s lyrical voice creates the effect of a camera-perspective shift. We begin this poem imagining a boy at a breakfast table, listening as his father tells a story. By the final stanza, the camera has shifted. The volta turns on the reader: The “you” is no longer just the boy anymore. “You” is the reader; “you” becomes us. Jarrett has guided us into the frame of the story without our becoming aware of it. She stands beside us as we watch the events unfold, and it is this gentleness with which she achieves this shift that makes these poems so powerful and heartbreaking.

Jarrett has dedicated five of the poems in the collection to the victims of rape, hanging and burning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These poems, however, are not simply elegies to bury the dead but songs to resurrect them. The names that these poems bear, previously unknown to many of us, rise up to defy their anonymity. In “What We Say to the Water,” dedicated to Laura Nelson, who was raped and hanged on May 25, 1911, Jarrett writes, “Be still. No further. / Apologize to no one.”

Even as Jarrett’s poems command the work of resurrection, they do not leave the story there. Memory is not enough; resurrection, even, will not suffice. In “Lazarus,” she interrogates what happens after Christ commands Lazarus to “Rise up and walk”: “Did he turn his back / to the sound at first, cry out: It’s early yet.” Later in the poem, she records Lazarus’ impressions of the world with which he must re-engage: “How small now this earth, how tinny / its birdsong. How sloven the tree’s corporeal array.” Given Lazarus’ perspective, we might begin to ask ourselves: What are the stakes of resurrection? Of being called again into the land of the living, which now seems so small? Of walking again among those trees bearing their horrific “corporeal array”? Of truly seeing for the first time? We can no longer claim innocence; we must decide what to do with our new sight. As the speaker says in “When the Sun Nears the Earth in the West”: “Behold the spinning earth. Choose.”

After reading Ain’t No Grave, we as readers become sorts of Lazaruses, emerging from our tombs to gaze upon our world with newly opened eyes. Although this collection brings us face-to-face with the history of atrocity, Jarrett does not leave us at its mercy. In the final section of the book, she recounts the story of a girl who was afraid of the dark in which she writes, “Exhausted  / [my mother] brought me a flashlight. // With it, I would write / words into the darkness until / I could fill the room with them.” “Let there be light,” Jarrett’s voice calls out over the darkness. And there was, and here is, light.

***

Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus

Leah Silvieus is a poet and interdisciplinary artist whose work has been featured at the O, Miami Poetry Festival and at the Asian American Women Artists Association in San Francisco. She also has received grants and fellowships from Fulbright, Kundiman, US Poets in Mexico, and the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation. Her writing has been featured in Asian American Poetry & WritingCURAThe Collagist, and diode, among others. Currently, she divides her time between Florida and New York where she works in the yacht hospitality industry. You can visit her athttp://leahsilvieus.wordpress.com/

Happy Fall!

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Dear listeners,

We’re finally back from a long summer and ready for the fall season of TBJ (though it’s still 90 degrees in Southern California)!

In the next few months, we’re rolling out interviews with some really awesome writers and cartoonists, like Jen Wang, and reviews of fantastic poetry collections ( to start, T.J. Jarrett’s Ain’t No Grave), chapbooks (Michelle Peñaloza’s Landscape/Heartbreak), comics, graphic novels and more.

We’ve been podcasting for six years (!), and we’re still committed to our mission of spotlighting underrepresented, diverse voices in the writing world, from poetry to comics, and we want to continue and put out more content!

But we need your help.  We’re starting our Patreon fundraising campaign to pay for file hosting for our shows, postage to send out promo materials and books to our contributors,  a new website, a new microphone and more. We hope you’ll help us out.

Gracias, salamat, thank you for your support and for tuning in!

-RC

Episode #116: Stephanie Barbé Hammer, author of HOW FORMAL? and THE PUPPET TURNERS OF NARROW INTERIOR

Episode #116! An interview with Stephanie Barbé Hammer, author of HOW FORMAL? and THE PUPPET TURNERS OF NARROW INTERIOR. Intro music by T. Fowler.

Speaker_Stephanie-Barbe-Hammer

Descended from Norwegian plumbers on one side, and broke bohemian Russian aristocrats on the other, Stephanie Barbé Hammer has published short fiction, nonfiction and poetry in The Bellevue Literary Review, CRATE, Pearl, East Jasmine Review, Apeiron, and the Hayden’s Ferry Review among other places. Stephanie’s prose poem chapbook Sex with Buildings, appeared with Dancing Girl Press in 2012. Her 2014 full length collection, How Formal? was published by Spout Hill Press. Her first novel The Puppet Turners of Narrow Interior appeared in March 2015 with Urban Farmhouse Press. A sometime performer, Stephanie can be glimpsed on the margins of  Erika Suderburg’s feature-length filmSomatography, as well as in her own short videos for writers starring her heteronyms: German organizational expert Mitzi Notnagel and her associate, polyamorous anarchist culture commentatrix Simone Baumbaumsziegfieldstravinskyshalom (neé Stein). A professor emerita at UC Riverside since 2014, Stephanie teaches at conferences and writers associations and divides her time between Coupeville Washington and Los Angeles California with her husband, interfaith blogger Larry Behrendt. She currently co-curates a monthly poetry series at Chevalier Books in LA with poet/performance artist Rich Ferguson. Stephanie is a 4-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize.

How Many Ways to Arrive: A Review of not so, sea by Mg Roberts

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Durga Press, 86 pages
Reviewed by Muriel Leung

“tell me how to root in sentence form, to distinguish pain from sacrifice

                                                                                                   ::

tell me where to dissolve”

–excerpt from Mg Roberts’ not so, sea

For Mg Roberts in her wildly emotive first book not so, sea, poetry is an attempt to reconcile a messy story of origin. On the one hand, origin is scripted by geographical traversal as the speaker emigrates from the Philippines. However, geography in terms of nation and borders is just one narrative strain. For Roberts, geography is not only the stuff of maps but also the textured landscape of place, the angled hurt of memory, and the indefatigable strength of the mothering body that endures birth, death, and everything in between.

It is why the text within not so, sea appears in the form of non-linear narrative and fragments parsed by white space. Fragmentation is necessary to construct this particular narrative of origin. It disrupts a linear and hegemonic narrative that privileges order and coherency. For Roberts, these fragments are jagged shards that begin with a “cut” in the book’s cinematic opening in which the speaker watches the story of her birth through performative distance. The cut at once signifies the cutting of an umbilical cord as well as the filmic technique of moving from shot to shot. Though these gestures may seem like discordant parts, they are assembled together to forge a new meaning.

This undulating movement between distance and longing characterizes the tonal complexity of the book’s fragments. In between birth and death, there is the narrative of a rich intergenerational history between women—the speaker, her mother, her grandmother, and her daughter as well. There is also the militarization of Asian countries that include the Philippines and Vietnam as well as the violent forces of racism in the speaker’s everyday encounters in the U.S. Frequently torn between spaces and time, the speaker forces herself to engage with what is most difficult in order to better comprehend her own history. She self-flagellates by watching post-Vietnam War action movies “to be closer to” an unnamed American G.I. that she addresses in a letter whose only distinction is by the number one. She ruminates on the Barbie Doll’s proportions and the expectations the toy’s measurements have placed upon young girls, particularly for the speaker’s daughter. In each turn, the speaker attempts to grow closer to violence as a way of touching it—which is a unique way of attempting to know it and master it in the hopes that she could uncover something in return that might make the future safe for her and her children.

not so, sea is a brightly dappled landscape of a text that matches its moments of clinical removal with floods of unrestrained mourn. Despite that grief, it is also a text of hope. In the lines from which Roberts draws for the book’s title, she writes, “Perched on this location, bowed against this site and elsewhere—not so, sea./ Pages turn creating distance. I must retell myself until I can see us in color.” The site that she names is non-specific but the syntactical obfuscation of the phrase “not so, sea” tells us that the sea can be both object and figure of address. The multiplicity of meaning here in the physical landscape is very much a marker of the potential of text. The process of “retell[ing]” though it may be bleak and terrifying, it is also necessary. It needs to be said because the alternative of silence also cuts. But this act of retelling is powerful for it names a distinct suffering marked by the perpetual sense of transiency and distance after immigration, removal of one’s innate sensibilities through the damaging effects of colonialism, racism and misogyny, and the cultural and familial demands in response to all this discord. Though there is a palpable fear of how this suffering will be passed down to a future generation, Roberts offers this generosity—an inheritance of pain is not without the fortitude to persist in spite of it.

***

Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung

Muriel Leung is a multimedia poet and former teaching artist from Queens, NY. Her poetry and essays can be found or is forthcoming in Coconut, TENDE RLOIN, Bone Bouquet, Dark Phrases, and RE/VISIONIST. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship. Currently, she is a MFA candidate in poetry at Louisiana State University where she also serves as the Assistant Editor of New Delta Review.