Category Archives: Poetry

TBJ at AWP in Washington D.C.!

We took the show on the road to AWP (Associated Writing Programs) Conference in D.C.!  Check out our flash episodes (or flashisodes) here.

No Walls AWP

Interviews with Rio Cortez, Janice Sapigao, Joseph Legaspi, Esteban Rodriguez, Clem Heard, Dolapo Demuren live at the conference.

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Episode #120: Of Resistance and Refusal

Episode #120: Writers and poets, Lauren Lola, Jane Wong and Tamiko Beyer share writing of resistance and refusal.

Readings mentioned in the introduction:

Teju Cole’s NY Editorial, “A Time for Refusal”

Adrienne Rich’s “XI: One night, on Monterey Bay…” from An Atlas of the Difficult World

If you’d like to submit a recording, please email Rachelle at rachelle.a.cruz[at]gmail[dot]com.

 

Episode #118: Angela Peñaredondo, author of ALL THINGS LOSE THOUSANDS OF TIMES

Born in Iloilo City, Philippines, Angela Peñaredondo is a Pilipinx/Pin@y poet and artist (on other days, she identifies as a usual ghost, comet or part-time animal) . He book, All Things Lose Thousands of Times is the winner of the Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize.  She/Siya is author of the chapbook,Maroon (Jamii Publications). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in AAWW’s The Margins, Four Way Review, Cream City Review, Southern Humanities Review, Dusie and elsewhere.

She/Siya is a VONA/Voices of our Nations Art fello, a recipient of a University of California Institute for Research in the Arts Grant, Gluck Program of the Arts Fellowship, Naropa University’s Zora Neal Hurston Award, Squaw Valley Writers Fellowship and Fishtrap Fellowship. She/Siya has received scholarships from Tin House, Split This Rock, Dzanc Books International Literary Program and others. Angela resides in Southern California, drifiting between deserts, beaches, lowly cities and socially engineered suburbs.

Also, here are Angela’s video poems from the Center for Art and Thought:

“This is no place to live alone”: A Review of The Belle Mar by Katie Bickham

By Heather Buchanan

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This is no place to live alone.

This simple statement is the cornerstone of The Belle Mar by Katie Bickham. Set in an old Louisiana plantation house that has stood from 1811 through the present day, this collection links generations of characters across time. Through a brilliant use of atmosphere, tone, language, and visceral imagery, Bickham enables readers to grasp the subtle complexities of a brutal world that masqueraded itself as genteel.

Bickham’s house is dead, yet alive. Through interconnected vignettes, the poet masterfully employs a house full of ghosts to tell a long, sad story. Each poem takes place in a specific location, most often a room in the house. Each room served its traditional purpose, such as the kitchen, tool shed, or attic, but they also served a dual purpose within that slave society. In “Barracks, 1839,” a master gently calls out his slave, Abraham, for a punishment that will ultimately tear all the flesh from Abraham’s back. Upon his arrival at the barracks, the master is:

Grinning. Grinning like he might split in two
with laughing any second. “Abraham, m’boy,
m’boy.” He stalked a few slow circles round the room,
all the breath sucked from Abraham’s lungs…
“You know we got to go outside, son.”

In an earlier poem (“Library, 1830”), the granddaughter of the dying slave master feels driven by a moral cause, sneaking out to find the three slaves she is secretly teaching to read. As she prepares to meet them, she rationalizes:

You had to do bad sometimes, had to play tricks,
Had to sneak to have a good heart,
To guide your good heart home…

Having spent four months of “ghosting” to her room and copying pages at night, the granddaughter “had nearly smuggled out every last line / of Grandfather’s abridged Odyssey.” This carefully selected choice of text demonstrates Bickham’s strong command of literary devices such as allusion. Could the granddaughter be presupposing a future for three slaves by teaching them an epic poem about a perilous journey home, and how trickery could be used to outwit a cyclops?

Each poem in The Belle Mar moves forward chronologically, juxtaposing the worlds of master and slave. In “Attic, 1835,” the tragic legacy of slavery continues through the passing on of a plantation from a father to his son, a chain of human misery that will not be broken:

In his last minutes, his father had held his face
with the strength of a well man. “This will be
your bed tomorrow. That, your window,
those, your fields. They hunger, boy,
and you will feed them or they’ll swallow you.

As he takes in his father’s last words, the son feels the weight of his obligation to perpetuate this oppressive world: the fields, and the “churning / steady noise of the Mississippi…There was no returning, / was never any rising back up / above sea level.”

Through a sustained tone of detached matter-of-factness, masters, slaves, and women on both sides of this bleak dynamic make weighty decisions every day, decisions that have a finality that our contemporary society would find difficult to contemplate. In “Back Fields, 1849,” the slave Abraham makes the risky decision to run:  “After the rains / we gone.” For the slave, choosing to run from the plantation likely means death; for the master, recapturing a runaway means contemplation of death for the slave. Bickham’s women simply know this:

“A woman knows which pains she’ll survive /
considering those she’s known before” (“Far Swamp,” 1825).

The language of The Belle Mar stays true to its context, sparse dialogue and tight descriptions upholding the truth of these characters’ lives. The title of each poem is based on the “purpose” of each room. Figurative language displays the conventions of Louisiana life: dried sticks of cane, iced tea, summer storms, the river and floods, a “graying maid,” all in support of themes of family, nature, and death.

One could argue that the characters of The Belle Mar are figures representing that larger slave narrative that is familiar to us, yet Bickham imbues each resident of this house with little touches of vibrant humanity that makes them something more than figures. Perhaps it’s the way Violet, standing in the kitchen, “feels the coming storm in her knees, / less pain than heaviness—the body’s way / of speaking with the earth” (“Kitchen, 1845”). Maybe it’s the way that teacher of slaves, Penelope, can “sprint the pecan rows”. Or likely it’s Old Israel, who chooses to hang himself rather than face an unknown future as a newly-freed slave, “fought them / when they tried to carry him… / spat and slapped when they tried to say prayers on him” (“Sugar House,” 1864).

The Belle Mar begins and ends with the house. Its dreamlike atmosphere is just this side of a nightmare, a place no one can ever escape. Bickham understands that the past and present will not—nor ever will be—separated. Even after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the house endures. The owner remembers growing up in the house’s “haunted halls” (“The Belle Mar, 2005”) and dreads her husband’s plans to rebuild it:

She believed him. He would sink his last dime
into raising the house from this ruin.
But in her marrow, hope rose
like floodwater, hope
the house was finished…

In the final poem, “Parlor, 2012,” a woman inherits a key to the house from her mother. She is warned in a loving note to “Guard against rattling bayou ghosts, / the pinstruck bones who stalk the riverline.” The daughter knows better:

My mother was mistaken. Ghosts stay
close to home, grinding their teeth
in the walls, making their beds
in the warped floors. I see them
sweeping out of rooms just as I light lamps.
This is no place to live alone.

 

***

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Heather Buchanan

Heather Buchanan is the owner of Aquarius Press, now celebrating its 15th year. Willow Books, its literary division, develops, publishes, and promotes writers typically underrepresented in the field; recent collaborations include the publication of Cave Canem XII. A graduate of Wayne State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn respectively, Heather has taught Composition, English, African American Literature, and World Literature at several colleges and universities. In addition to teaching, Heather presents on arts and literature at conferences across the country, most recently for the Ragdale Foundation. She has directed many events and conferences, including LitFest Chicago, Midwest Poets & Writers Conference, and the Idlewild Writers Conference. A Poet-in-Residence emeritus for the Detroit Public Library system, Heather also served on the Board of Governors for UM-Dearborn’s College of Arts & Sciences Affiliate and was the COO of the Wayne County Council for Arts, History & Humanities. A musician, she is currently working on a World War I centennial book and music project honoring the Harlem Hellfighters. She has been a reviewer for BlogCritics and MyShelf and has blogged for publications such as Poets & Writers.

Episode #117: Salt and Bone – An Interview with Muriel Leung and Grace Shuyi Liew

Episode #117!  You can listen here:

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Muriel Leung is from Queens, NY. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming inThe Collagist, Fairy Tale Review, Ghost Proposal, Jellyfish Magazine, inter|rupture, and others. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship and is a regular contributor to The BloodJet Writing Hour poetry podcast. She is also a Poetry Co-Editor for Apogee Journal. She will attend USC’s PhD program in Creative and Literature in the fall. Her first book Bone Confetti is forthcoming from Noemi Press in October 2016.

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Grace Shuyi Liew is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Prop (Ahsahta) andBook of Interludes (Anomalous). Her work was chosen by Vancouver Poetry House as one of “Ten Best Poems of 2015.” Her poetry has been published inWest Branch, cream city review, Puerto del Sol, and others, and she is a contributing editor for Waxwing. Grace grew up all over Malaysia and currently resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

But There is a Cost: on Victoria Chang’s The Boss

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By Leah Silvieus

Victoria Chang’s The Boss (McSweeney’s 2013) is a virtuosic and intimate meditation on power in its many forms. The Boss, winner of the PEN Center Literary Award as well as a California Book Award, is as polished and self-assured as a third book should be. While there are many fine poems worth discussing in this collection, I would like to focus on the poems titled after the paintings of American artist Edward Hopper (1882 – 1962), which make up nearly a quarter of the collection and comprise a significant part of its structural frame.

Hopper’s Office at Night appears in the title of three poems; the New York Office, Office in a Small City and Automat all appear twice. Chang also includes poems titled after Conference at Night and Chair Car. Much of Hopper’s oeuvre reveals figures gazing out windows – or gazing at each other unable to connect emotionally, which is solitude of a different kind. These paintings often place us as viewers into position of voyeurs who are happening upon Hopper’s figures just before or after something important occurs. We feel the tension between these individuals and the outside world that they gaze upon; we are not invited to engage fully, but at the same time, we are tempted to linger. The brilliance of Chang’s poems, however, lies in how they return the painting’s gaze, thus inviting the reader from the position of voyeur to witness:

 

“[…] from the front the building looks

like a giant spreadsheet there would be

thousands of rectangles

 

thousands of workers staring out like

little numbers waiting to be shifted up

shifted down summed up averaged

deleted” (“Edward Hopper’s Office in a Small City” p. 37)

 

The readers become those gazing back at the spreadsheet of office windows, alongside the speaker, as if it were in our power to sum the workers up, average them – delete them. “They are waiting on us – what will we do?” the poem seems to ask.

Chang also invites the reader into the position of witness as she transposes the figures in Hopper’s paintings into scenes of the speaker’s history, as she does in her second “Edward Hopper’s Office at Night.” The end of the poem segues into an intimate and personal discussion of the legacy of power: “I hear my two-year-old fighting / with someone in her crib she is bossing // someone around no no no bad that’s mine you don’t take / mine […]”, and later in the same poem, “[…] I hear her singing happy birthday to / me happy birthday to me she is already celebrating / herself she will be the perfect boss.”

Chang’s deft use of enjambment, slant rhymes and plays on words embody the tension between the figures in the poems, between interior and public life, between the individual and her relationship to structures of power. She walks courageously into the difficult terrain of the tension between power’s effects on others and our own desire for it: “my four-year-old daughter still / listens to me I am the boss and I like it I / see why the boss likes it,” she writes in “The Boss Wears a White Vest.” Later, in “The Boss Rises,” she comments: “we / can be bosses too can hold the cross but / there is a cost.”

Then, Chang reminds us, there are some powers that we are helpless to control altogether, which she captures in “I Once Was a Child”: “my father lost his words to a stroke / a stroke of bad luck stuck his words / used to be so worldly […]” Little, if anything, is lastingly ours:

 

“[…] my blood has nowhere to go trapped in this

cavity circling and reassuring itself chasing

itself until one day it will rush out and

never look back” (“Some Days One Day”)

 

The landscape of power that Chang presents in The Boss is, at times, quite grim; however, her playfulness and prosodic virtuosity reminds us that we need not live quietly desperate. While Hopper may have given us windows from which to gaze out, Chang’s poems give us the hammer to break through.

***

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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/

 

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

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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.