The Braid, by Carla Drysdale

First, my cry, then yours, split the sky
above that Brooklyn hospital
as you, limbs curled and purple
slid out of my body
after a prolonged and irreversible journey.
Pain, then
absence of pain.

The midwife held you up,
newborn body, alive in this world.
You peed an arc of urine
sparkling over the bed
and over her.

The champagne cork popped.
We all drank to life.
You suckled on a nipple.
Your lips still rimmed
with watery blood from that
other life inside.

We lay together, suspended,
holding on to each other.
Tough braid of blue and red
still binding us
cut for the first and last time.

From All Born Perfect, by Carla Drysdale. Published by Kelsay Books. This poem first appeared in the chapbook Inheritance from Finishing Line Press. Republished with permission of the poet.

Cucumber Psalm, by Lisa Bellamy

Flourish, unwashed, unpeeled, bouncy boys;
grow, citizen-workers, clothed in good dirt—
dearest ones, I place my hope in you—
your green is king, in my garden. Chopped, you are cukes,
(my Wisconsin mamma loschen)—fluted, celebrated,
bobbing in vinegar and dill; tastiest brine.
Emperor Tiberius, whom Pliny the Elder called
the gloomiest of men, enjoyed cucumbers every night
with dinner—yes, an attempt to self-medicate depressions—
but was his gloom depression or prophetic vision?
Caligula succeeded Tiberius. Today, the sky is blue—
so what. I cannot stop worrying about the republic.
When a Roman woman wanted a child, she tied
cucumbers about her waist; what, you ask,
do I want? Regime change. I want a sister or three,
subversive, fomenting coffee klatch, chatter,
plots against fascists over our Gurkensalat,
lopped, swished with sour cream—dearest cukes,
delight, nourish, fortify me—I want insurrection.

by Lisa Bellamy. Originally published in Salamander No. 50, Spring/Summer 2020. Reprinted with permission of the poet.

Dispatches from an MFA: Final Semester, First Packet

This is part of a series called Dispatches from an MFA which details my experiences in the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing program at Lesley University. In the final semester, I studied with poet Erin Belieu. We spent the semester working on my MFA thesis, which became the basis for the manuscript I began shopping in 2019. Graduating students are also responsible for teaching a seminar at their final residency. This is the cover letter to the first packet of the semester.

Dear Erin:

This month I’ve felt like I’m thrashing around in a very shallow pond. At one point I shouted, “I have no idea what I’m doing!” My partner Mark laughed and said, “It sounds like grad school.”

Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Final Semester, First Packet”

When Was My Anger Conceived? by Jennifer Martelli

The summer of assassinations?

By the man-made lake? A hole
so shallow and muddy, all the men
held hands, formed a human net and
walked toward each other to the center
to feel for some kid who might have
gone under–there,

on its shore, in the Kodak, me,
in my little terry cloth bikini,
all round as the moon stomach.
I’d worn a Batman mask attached

by a thin rubber band all summer,
my hands fisted, the nails bit crescents
in my palms.

The summer of my menarche? I stood

against the lazy Susan in the kitchen and
watched the President resign on the small TV:
I cried because of the cramps and blood,
the garter belt biting me. My mother said
we’d never see this again and she was wrong:

even married to my father,
she couldn’t predict the depth
of a man’s rage.

A year after my abortion?

The clinic three stops down
from my dorm, three quick stops
on the Green Line, and no one shot
there yet but escorts needed, one pink
set of rosaries flung at my face.

That year, the year of Ferraro, my aunt said she wouldn’t vote
for anything

that menstruated, could get pregnant,
could bear a child.

– Jennifer Martelli, from In the Year of Ferraro, published by Nixes Mate, 2020. Republished with permission of the poet.

Buy Jenn’s chapbook at:

Please consider supporting small presses and local bookstores.

See all of Jenn’s publications on her website.

Read an interview with Jenn at Broadsided Press (where you can download broadsides and spread poetry in the streets).

Read an interview with Jenn at The Rumpus

Corners, by Enzo Silon Surin

My conversation with Enzo Silon Surin appeared in the The Rumpus in August. Here’s one of the poems from his book When My Body Was a Clinched Fist, out now from Black Lawrence Press.

Here’s a poem from the book.

Corners

Outside Papi’s Bodega, young boy in
summer’s native garb—white tank-top,

doorag’s a smooth blue crown garnishing
the stubbles of a week-old fade—regulates

a stereo knob while sitting shotgun
in a chromed-wheel Escalade—the ghost

of Tupac Shakur magnified in a subwoofer
like an opus—as long as

music’s kept all’s good where we come
from. If only a glare didn’t easily stumble—

if only manhood wasn’t tenured with black
powder in metal capsules, brown boys, free

to chase arcade mortality, wouldn’t have to
warily long for a ghetto’s heaven or if grief,

inherited each day they step into the a.m.,
would follow them into an afterlife.

But corners often treble the soul, a cold hope
in the fold & on Winthrop and Thorndale

the sidewalk pleats, stumbles a man in hooded sweatshirt
and blood-sodden jeans, fresh breaths

breaching his lungs—if only keeping eyes off
the karma and on the prize was what made this

world go ’round, it would be what was always
wanted—any landscape better than what’s here

—where on most nights, a native glare renders
a chamber empty as winter flower boxes.

From When My Body Was a Clinched Fist. Black Lawrence Press, 2020. Reprinted with permission from the poet.

Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, Final Packet

This is part of a series called Dispatches from an MFA, which details my experiences in the low-residency MFA program at Lesley University. In the third semester, I studied with poet Adrian Matejka. We spent the semester working on my craft essay, a long term paper that does a deep dive into a particular craft element–in my case, poetic line and how Adrienne Rich and Gwendolyn Brooks have influenced contemporary intersectional female poets. This is the cover letter to the final packet.

Dear Adrian:

I tend to have mixed feelings when sending in the last packet of the semester. It’s a relief to come to a break in the work. But once I’ve turned in the packet, despondence overcomes me as I realize the end of the semester means no more school for a while. School has generally been a refuge for me. And this work I’m doing has such intrinsic value that even when I’m on the edge of burnout I prefer it to my non-poetry, non-academic life. Without a school deadline, the future appears like an unbroken line of dull days clocking into my corporate job, writing status reports and functional specs, hiding my artistic side in favor of businesslike necessity.

Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, Final Packet”

Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, Third Packet

This is part of a series called Dispatches from an MFA, which details my experiences in the low-residency MFA program at Lesley University. In the third semester, I studied with poet Adrian Matejka. We spent the semester working on my craft essay, a long term paper that does a deep dive into a particular craft element-–in my case, poetic line and how Adrienne Rich and Gwendolyn Brooks have influenced contemporary intersectional female poets. This is the cover letter to the third packet.

Dear Adrian:

What a relief to be able to change the thesis of my craft essay. Our conversation on Friday helped all the pieces of the puzzle fall in place. My early thesis just didn’t stand up to the light when it was time to do close readings, especially in the case of Morgan Parker. Connecting Parker with Brooks’s voice makes so much more sense than trying to argue that her work was more regularly patterned—it’s just not. I expected to have to rewrite the entire paper from scratch, but I found that most of the close readings I’d already done worked well with new argument—I just needed to tweak a few of the arguments.

The extra couple of days have given me an opportunity to polish up the whole thing. Hopefully it meets with your satisfaction. I’m sure that if I revisited it, I could find further tweaks to make, but as my poetry-sister Wandajune says, it’s never going to be perfect.

Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, Third Packet”

Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, Second Packet

This is part of a series called Dispatches from an MFA, which details my experiences in the low-residency MFA program at Lesley University. In the third semester, I studied with poet Adrian Matejka. We spent the semester working on my craft essay, a long term paper that does a deep dive into a particular craft element–in my case, poetic line and how Adrienne Rich and Gwendolyn Brooks have influenced contemporary intersectional female poets. This is the cover letter to the first packet.

Dear Adrian:

It’s worked out that the majority of my semesters for this MFA program are going to take place in the Winter/Spring term. I feel particularly lucky that you are on sabbatical next semester, since it means we’ve been able to work together. I have mixed feelings about doing actual academic work during the Winter/Spring term, though. My fondest memories of school are in September, when the world and the school year seem full of possibilities. As a grown-up living outside the groves of academe, I sometimes find a wave of melancholia overtakes me in the fall. A good friend of mine once said it’s because I’m sad that I’m not back in school. Regardless, my memories of the Winter/Spring term have more to do with gasping toward the finish line than setting off on a new, exciting venture. And late winter can be especially difficult. All this to say that the second packet tends to be rougher and thinner than I would generally like it to be.

Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, Second Packet”

Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, First Packet

This is part of a series called Dispatches from an MFA, which details my experiences in the low-residency MFA program at Lesley University. In the third semester, I studied with poet Adrian Matejka. We spent the semester working on my craft essay, a long term paper that does a deep dive into a particular craft element–in my case, poetic line and how Adrienne Rich and Gwendolyn Brooks have influenced contemporary intersectional female poets. This is the cover letter to the first packet.


Dear Adrian:

 Thanks for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully to my emails this month, as well as for the additional reading suggestions.

It’s funny—my first semester, I did the craft annotations ahead of the poetry revision and writing. This semester, I did my revisions and new writing first, all while stressing out about the craft essay thesis and outline. Either way, the critical work still stresses me out more than the writing and revising. I suppose this is why I’m getting an MFA instead of a PhD in literature.

I was surprised at how quickly I managed to work my way through the stack of poetry books. Some of the collections definitely spoke to me more than others. As you know, I was immediately taken with Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé. I went ahead and order her first book as well, but I just couldn’t connect to it the same way. Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia was a quick read – the language is so beautiful, the narrative so clear and sequential, and the forms of the poems so similar that it reads almost like a novel in verse – in fact, it was an easier read than David Rakoff’s novel in verse.

Reading theory about poetic line was tougher going. I got through the Longenbach in about a day, mostly through extreme effort of will and because it’s a relatively small text. My main takeaway was the notion of the annotating versus the parsing line. He argues that enjambment “annotates,” or calls attention to a word outside of the usual phrasing of a sentence, whereas a parsing line merely ends where there would be a natural pause. I discovered A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line, a treasure trove of many different poets’ theories and opinions about poetic line. I rented it as an ebook for a few months rather than paying three times as much to own it. As a result the reading has been slow going. When I read on screen rather than on paper, I find it harder to absorb the material. I’ve been keeping a Word window screen minimized next to the ebook so that I can take notes while I read. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the thing now. The tone of the essays varies a great deal, some of the poets writing almost entirely from personal experience and others trying to make more general pronouncements about the line and what it means. In the introduction, Anton Vander Zee sums up the Levertov essay on the line better than I could: that the line tracks the stress of inner thought, and that the line is a script for performance.  Three other takeaways:

Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester Three, First Packet”
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