Poet Lore has 8 poets and 17 poems nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize! We spoke to nominee Julie Wendell about her poem “The Art of Falling.” Read it here and see what Wendell has to say about it. From the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Poet Lore.
THE ART OF FALLING
You fall from a horse enough times
and you learn how to fall—
like snow, rain or love,
all goose-down and no elbows.
He spooks at a leaf, knocking you
sideways, the saddle slips—and well,
you’re going down again.
Relax, you’ll get used to it.
Relax, you say to the lobster,
just before plopping him
into the roiling pot.
Relax, you say to a friend
on the eve of another bender.
Or to yourself, falling off a ledge
onto a concrete floor.
It’s easy when you imagine
a soft landing. But when your mother
sinks into her pillow in her final hour,
she knows she’s not falling the right way.
Blah, blah, blah, she mouths,
flicking the back of her bruised hand
as if brushing away a gnat,
when the priest lowers his head
to trace the thumbprint of oil,
first up and down, then sideways
on her glistening forehead.
* * *
Poet Lore: Your poem seems to be a treatise on handling loss. Do you believe there is such thing as a happy ending?
Julie Wendell: Fate is a series of inevitable accidents. You can't change that, but you can become good at the accidents. I have been falling off horses for years, and like anything you do a lot, you get better at it. There's a way to fall and not get hurt. You can practice the falls until you're so good at them your conscious mind doesn't even obsess over them anymore. But there are other falls you can't rehearse, like losing your mother. After some falls, you don't land the right way; you break your hip, you lose your life. Loss, you have to practice that too. Does anyone really want to say she doesn't believe in happy endings? I guess that's why some of us cry when we hear about a friend having a baby.
Julia Wendell’s most recent book of poems is Take This Spoon (Main Street Rag, 2014). She is the author of several other poetry collections, as well as a memoir, Finding My Distance (Galileo Press, 2009). She currently lives in South Carolina with her husband, poet and essayist Barrett Warner, and is finishing another memoir, Come to the X.
Poet Lore has 8 poets and 17 poems nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize! We spoke to nominee Frank Stewart about his poem “Light Work.” Read it here and see what Stewart has to say about it. From the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Poet Lore.
Desolation makes us peaceful
Makes us gentle with ourselves
For now, seeing the ragged
Pillage, their shoulder blades
Rounded and yellow as leaves
Some fall by the river, others
Remove their clothes and defecate
No infants except
A red-haired girl with inflamed skin
Villagers brought us hot broth and horsemeat
Then hid again under the earth
Three got down from the train without light
Except for some stolen candles
Which wasn’t enough
* * *
Poet Lore: Can you comment on “Light Work” in relation to our historical moment?
Frank Stewart: Forced human migration is among the greatest global crises of our time. Although men and women have been displaced in every era, we are conscious of individual suffering in greater detail than was ever possible before. “Light Work” is one of a series of poems that concern refugees and exiles; the pieces are set in a variety of locations and time periods, some recognizable as caused by specific wars, famines, or other traumas, and others not; some voices are those of real men and women.
Frank Stewart has published four books of poetry, most recently By All Means (El Leon Literary Arts). He edits Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing in Honolulu.
Poet Lore has 8 poets and 17 poems nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize! We spoke to nominee Steven Sanchez about his poem “What I Didn’t Tell You.” Read it here and see what Sanchez has to say about it. From the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Poet Lore.
WHAT I DIDN’T TELL YOU
—for my brother
You can ask me anything,
even about my first kiss,
which was at your age
and tasted like stale beer.
I used to feel guilty swallowing
the pulse of another man,
but now I know there are many
ways to pray. There’s a name for
that most intimate prayer:
la petite mort—the little death.
If, when your lover rakes
your back, you recall
the flock of worshippers
surrounding you like raptors
when they learned you’re gay,
clawing at your shoulders,
squawking for your salvation,
remind yourself you have to die
before you can be resurrected.
Never forget what the Bible says:
when two people worship together,
they create a church
no matter where they are—
which must include
the backseat of a car
or the darkest corner
of Woodward Park.
These are some of the things
I wanted to tell you
that night in April
you called me for help
with your history report
about the gay-rights movement.
Neither of us admitted
what he knew about the other.
Instead I started
with the ancient Greeks,
told you it was normal for them,
that for one brief moment
they were allowed to shape
their own history and religion,
organizing the stars, forming
Orion, for example,
flexing in the sky, arms
open in victory, belt
hanging below his waist.
But he was punished
for his confidence,
a scorpion’s hooked tail
piercing his body
like a poison moon.
When I see Orion,
I think of you and remember
what it felt like
for my knuckles to sink
into your stomach,
for my fist to collide
with your face. Your voice,
your walk, your gestures
reminded me of myself,
your figure bright and fluid,
creating a reflection
I wanted to break.
And now I see
your body spill open—
Big Dipper hooked
to your ribs, North Star
nestled in the middle.
I reach for that ladle
* * *
Poet Lore: Can you comment on the longing in this poem, which seems, to me, to be well satisfied with its deep expression of love?
Steven Sanchez: I like to think that the speaker gains power (and by extension, finds some small bit of happiness) by acknowledging, confronting, and challenging their internalized homophobia. However, I don’t think a person can ever truly finish interrogating the ways we internalize toxic cultural narratives. Poems can absolutely end with a moment of happiness, but I wouldn’t consider happiness an ending—rather, happiness seems like a place to rest before moving forward.
Steven Sanchez, a CantoMundo fellow and a Lambda literary fellow, was selected by Mark Doty as the winner of Marsh Hawk Press’s 2016 Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award. His poems have appeared in Nimrod, Crab Creek Review, Assaracus, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry, among others.
Poet Lore has 8 poets and 17 poems nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize! We spoke to nominee Andrew Motion about his poem “The Edge of the World Twice.” Read it here and see what Motion has to say about it. From the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Poet Lore.
THE EDGE OF THE WORLD TWICE
The first time I reached the edge of the world
I lay in the prow of my ship and looked down.
The water beneath me was now so shallow
I could very easily have dipped my fingers
and dragged them through the ocean floor.
As it was I preferred simply to take notice
of the way our gentle bow-wave magnified
the least yellow pebbles and white stones,
a single knobbly and sick-looking boulder
flying a flag of bright green oily seaweed,
and the miniature collapses of sand-grains
where a timid creature fleeing my approach
buried itself and waited for the threat to pass.
You have to see this, I called over my shoulder,
forgetting for a moment that I was now alone.
Or to put it another way
I might well be
and today the day
wind switches from the north
which makes my wicker basket
leap a yard into the air
exactly like the collie’s bed
whenever she treads round
then round again
and settles down to sleep.
Be that as it may.
A little change is all it takes
to let me climb away
and find immediately below
the moss-starred tiles
and chimney stack of home,
which as it shrinks and fails
appears to crowd my eye
like matter in a microscope
with my collie outside now
and barking in the yard.
While I consider that
and what it means,
I see the garden table
where my children sit,
which tells me among other things
I must be traveling through time
as well as space.
The boys as usual convulse
at something that escapes me,
but my daughter,
she is silent,
staring hard into the laurel bush
as though she meant to seize
that shadow slinking off the leaves
because she really thinks
it might be mine.
Then all this also falls,
or maybe I should say
it rises from my sight,
and after that the flight
begins in earnest.
Deer I notice
plunging through deep bracken,
and a farmer in his field
as shadows lengthen
calling home his cows.
Afterwards a mill-wheel
and the river driving it,
which sometimes shines like mercury
and sometimes darkens
with reflections of the roofs
heaped up like dirt on either side.
In this way daylight fades
but never quite gives out.
when I approach the coast at last
and hear long waves
hiss-hissing on a sandy beach
like human hands
arranging tissue paper,
I still struggle to believe
that sunset is already
hammering the water.
Only now does it occur
I should have left much sooner
I should have left tomorrow.
But I am where I am—
and for all the good it does me,
I continue looking down.
which is one more thing among the many.
Are those lights below
reflections of the sun,
or are they—magical—
the fire of phosphorescence?
* * *
Poet Lore: Can you talk about how your poem navigates time?
Andrew Motion: ‘The Edge of the World Twice’ derived from an impulse (and then another one, which attached itself to a different little narrative) to explore the ways in which our sense of time passing intensifies as we get older. Intensifies, that is, to a point where our dismay at not having that much time left is held in more or less equal balance with our pleasure (admittedly sometimes mangled with regret) in remembering the times which comprise our past. The mingling of these feelings (and the tension that inevitably remains between them) is often painful, but it also gives our existence its salt and savour.
Andrew Motion was the UK Poet Laureate from 1999–2009; he is now a Homewood Professor at Johns Hopkins and lives in Baltimore.
Poet Lore has 8 poets and 17 poems nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize! We spoke to nominee Ruth Elizabeth Morris about her poem “Woman with a Postcard.” Read it here and see what Morris has to say about it. From the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Poet Lore.
WOMAN WITH A POSTCARD
I stick the postcard to the fridge, writing-side down,
so the miniature version of Les Demoiselles D’Avignon
is visible. Each time I go for milk, the women
in the painting stare back at me with strident focus.
For years, Picasso called this painting my brothel
with affection. He observed his models for months,
confronting each angular cheekbone and sturdy muscle,
rendering each woman as colossal, nude, all hacked up
and somehow intact. They made eye contact as Picasso painted,
so even now, when you look at them, they don’t look away.
He plucked their unblinking eyes and reset them
in animal masks over bodies agape as windows—
above a head, a dismembered hand against red dirt.
Darker still, a fractured body, fused to a thrust of sky.
Arrested in brushstrokes, the disjointed women move
as if guided by unseen strings, like grotesque marionettes
poised before the point of collapse. These women
remind me of another version of myself, sleeping naked,
wholly open, as an ex-boyfriend sat at the foot of the bed
writing a poem about the parts of me he found most beautiful:
my sleep-hooded eyes when he woke me for sex, the cleft
at the center of my chest where he annexed his thumbs,
his hands sliding from breasts to spine
as if pulling apart the segments of an orange.
Picasso said his women had within them a savage magic
that thirsted to be captured and seen. I wanted to reveal
this magic in my flesh, to see what men could see
that I couldn’t—so when I left my old lover,
I kept his poem. But the woman he’d fashioned on the page
didn’t seem anything like me. Parts of her were close:
her stunted torso, the mole on the bottom of her foot,
her small mouth with its open smile. From this, I learned
a muse is only a woman cut to pieces.
* * *
PL: In what ways do you think “Woman with a Postcard” might relate to the #MeToo movement?
Ruth Elizabeth Morris: “I became obsessed with this painting after a relationship ended with a college boyfriend who was also a poet. At the time, he was more accomplished in his craft than me, and everyone agreed that I should accept his opinions as expertise. When he wrote poems about our sexual experiences together and workshopped them with my teachers, I spent months walking around the campus feeling like my professors had seen me naked. If I expressed discomfort, I was reminded of the honor it was to be a muse, even if the woman I was on paper was only a body with male fingers that curled like a nautilus inside her. I kept quiet and tried to ignore it all. I like to reimagine his poem, sometimes, in a version where the woman on paper is more like the women Picasso painted: even in “his brothel” they look strong and sharp, and they don’t look away.”
Ruth Elizabeth Morris has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Marlyand, where she is a coordinator for Academic Programs. She was the first-prize winner of the 2015 Writer’s Digest Poetry Award. Her poems have appeared in The Seventh Wave, [PANK], and JMWW.
Pablo Picasso, Spain, 1881–1973Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
oil on canvas
244 x 234 cm
Museum of Modern Art
Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest
New York City