Acting director Laurie Hollinger on her choice for this week’s poem: “In observance of Veterans Day, I sought out poems by those who served. Here is a poem by Jenny Linn Loveland. Born in Tokyo, Japan, and raised in an Air Force family, Loveland grew up in Fairfield, CA near Travis Air Force Base. Commissioned at UC-Berkeley (1975), she was among the first women allowed to enter ROTC, and she is a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel and a Gulf War Veteran. Having raised two children, she lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she teaches, paints, writes, and conducts writing seminars for veterans affiliated with The Armed Services Arts Partnership and Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Medical Center. She belongs to The Poetry Society of Virginia, The Hampton Roads Veterans Writers Group, and writers’ groups in Richmond. She is working on a collection of poems and short stories about family, service, recovery, and joy.”
for veterans of
Iraq and Afghanistan
whenever I see a yard
not fenced in, freshly trimmed, I notice the fire-red
hydrant, talons out stretched all directions
whenever I hear sprinklers
tick and pulse, the stop-start whir of scythes
bicycling against tall grass mowed
I taste lush green shadows the hoses
left, breathe the newly sliced grass, filaments
rising, the dandelion manes shorn, and the summer’s flotsam
malingering behind the wheel
to scalding air-soaked deserts, molten
carpets of tar and dark odors where F-16’s
metal blades blasting night, shift orange
flicking Bedouin shadows,
whenever I see a yard unfenced,
I clench, keep to the wheel and drive
through worry, past
the tread marks, past
grit and sweat, past
the neighbors sipping beer.
First published in The Art of War, the War on the Rocks’ online defense journal, December 18, 2015, then in A Common Bond: A Veterans Chapbook, 2016.
A review by RCAH Center for Poetry founding director Anita Skeen
On Thursday evening, October 10, 2019, as I was on my way to teach in the annual Fall Writing Festival at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM, I stopped in Oklahoma City to visit with poet Jane Taylor, a longtime friend and fellow Ghost Ranch teacher, and to attend the opening reception for a project she had been working on for some time with visual artist Jane Wheeler. Jane 2 Jane, these two women called their work together. This project grew out of their desire to explore their separate art forms and to see what they might discover hidden around them in their neighborhoods. Jane Taylor explains: “The seeds and source material for this collaboration could have been any authentic neighborhood through which we drive, and perhaps, fail to look deeply. We chose to focus on the streets that make up Commonwealth Urban Farm because of its diversity, farm aesthetic, and food-sustaining routines, plus the swarm of love in yards and alley ways.” The project came to be called Defining Commonality: a Handmade Dictionary.
The opening, with a wonderful reception that included wine, varieties of fruits and pastries, and the actual art works themselves, was held at Full Circle Books, a labyrinth of an independent bookstore in Oklahoma City known for hosting readings and exhibits. When Jane (T.) said to me early in the evening, “I hope someone besides you and my family comes,” I laughed for two reasons, the first being that all of us who are artists and poets are always fearful that we will be the only ones at our reading or exhibition, and secondly because Jane and Jane are widely known throughout the Oklahoma City area for their remarkable creative talents and commitment to what Jane (T.) calls, “our communal eco-heart.” Jane (T.) and I arrived early at the bookstore to be sure that things would be ready to go at 7:30 when the exhibit opened.
Here I should stop and say what the exhibit consisted of, which were Jane (T.)’s poems and Jane (W.)’s photographs. Jane (W.) wrote in her photographer’s statement, “When photographing, I strive to slow down and notice, being open and receptive without bias. What appears may be order in an unordered place. It may be seemingly incongruent bits which together yield unexpected delights. It may be well-worn beauty. It isn’t, however, the eye-popping images which are traditionally defined as beautiful.”
I know that Jane and Jane pondered the many ways this exhibit could be mounted. Should they hang the photos and poems together, side by side, on a wall? Should the photographs be framed? What about the poetry? Should the works be placed on a table? Should they all be collected in a book? If so, what size?
What we found as we wandered through the exhibit and pondered the works was a true collaboration. Jane (T.) had, over a period of time, collected old hardbound dictionaries and removed their innards, cutting out all the pages and leaving only boards and spine. When Jane (T.), a former reference librarian, gave her opening remarks at the gathering, she said that, as she held the box cutter in her hand and disemboweled the books, she was sure she would end up in Library Jail somewhere. Then, as you will see from the photos here, she placed the poem on the left-hand side of the book and the photo on the right side. Thus, you saw a book and an artwork at the same time. I purchased one of these creations. The cover stated it was An American Heritage dic-tion-ary of THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, black with gold lettering, and when opened, this poem faced you on the left hand side:
From Middle English: to fix, be firm
Let them know us by our structures
Mounds, rakes, bales, chips, pruning.
Driving by, may they look with fertile mind.
Frame us close or wide.
Hum along to our hoop music.
Hear us fiddle in the February wind.
On the right side of the page was a photograph of the hoop house at Commonwealth Farms, a grey winter sky spilling out overhead, the hoop house almost translucent in the winter light, a look through the open doorway into lettuce or some other bright green crop, tree trunks and sticks, and plywood and metal strewn around outside. It was, as Jane (W.) wrote, “well-worn beauty.” Poem and photo were mounted in the boards with transparent photo corners, the kind that those of you my age will remember from the family albums we stored in or drawers or closets. The poem and photo rose when the binding was opened, came off the page, unhindered by trappings.
Exhibited throughout the bookstore were fifteen of these artistic collaborations. Six were sold that first night, and all the chairs that had been set up were filled, with folks left standing by the strawberries and cantaloupe sampling them as Jane and Jane each spoke a few words about their collaboration before we, the audience, were free to wander to the fireplace mantel, library table, or wherever the dictionaries had been placed. Jane (T.) read two poems and had two friends each read one of the poems. I wanted more. More poems. I wanted to hear all of the poems, and in Jane’s voice, before I wandered through the collection to see photo and poem. Because the exhibit was crowded with people (yes, Jane, others besides your family did come!) it was hard to spend much time with each individual art work. But after the talk and reception were over, chairs were folded, and leftover delicacies divided up and sent home, the dictionaries remained in place for patrons of Full Circle to view for a while in the future.
As a writer who values and actively tries to collaborate, I was so impressed with what Jane and Jane had done. I would encourage all of you who read this, regardless of your art form, to think of collaborating with another artist on a project. “The idea of collaborating with a poet had been simmering in my mind,” wrote Jane Wheeler, “before Jane Taylor and I started talking about the idea…. As I began to explore with the camera and the collaboration with Jane, I found that she saw things in the images that I didn’t see. And through her poetry she defined the melding of our media and highlighted how the minutia of a place is part of the bond we have with nature.” Finally, in the conclusion to her artist’s statement, Jane Taylor offered us this: “The life cycles on which we depend were always at the heart of my poems. For that life-affirming energy, and the music/light of Jane’s photos, I am grateful and happy to offer this work.”
Center for Poetry intern Charlotte Krause chose this week’s poem. Here’s what she had to say: “I chose this poem because I think it is a super fun and iconic poem for fall and especially Halloween. Shakespeare plays a huge part in how we think about witches today, and I think that this specific poem from Macbeth is just so fun. It’s full of spooky imagery that’s perfect for the season.”
Song of the Witches: “Double, double toil and trouble”
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.
Macbeth: IV.i 10-19; 35-38
Source: The Random House Book of Poetry
for Children (1983)
Center for Poetry intern, Kaylee McCarthy, chose this week’s poem. Here’s what she had to say about it: “Tess Gallagher’s voice is luminous as she explores agency and choice. Through lush imagery and ambiguous perspective, she conveys the surreal quality of being in stasis in a changing world. ‘Willingly’ shifts effortlessly between dreaming and waking, painting a scene of light and rebirth.”
When I get up he has been long at work, his brush limber against the house. Seeing him on his ladder under the eaves, I look back on myself asleep in the dream I could not carry awake. Sleep inside a house that is being painted, whole lifetimes now only the familiar cast of morning light over the prayer plant. This “not remembering” is something new of where you have been.
What was settled or unsettled in sleep stays there. But your house under this steady arm is leaving itself and you see this gradual surface of new light covering your sleep has the greater power. You think now you felt brush strokes or the space between them, a motion bearing down on you—accumulation of stars, each night of them arranging over the roofs of entire cities.
His careful strokes whiten the web, the swirl of woodgrain blotted out like a breath stopped at the heart. Nothing has changed you say, faithlessly. But something has cleansed you past recognition. When you stand near his ladder looking up he does not acknowledge you, and as from daylight in a dream you see your house has passed from you into the blessed hands of others.
This is ownership, you think, arriving in the heady afterlife of paint smell. A deep opening goes on in you. Some paint has dropped onto your shoulder as though light concealed an unsuspected weight. You think it has fallen through you. You think you have agreed to this, what has been done with your life, willingly.
Center for Poetry intern, Jillian Bowe, chose this week’s poem. Here’s what she had to say about it: “Olivia Gatwood is an unapologetic force bringing light to all the glory and frustration of being a girl. Her re-contextualization of the words “teen girl” in this piece, paired with her grace in captivating a stage, serves as a fresh reminder to those who minimize the validity of these girls and their lives that we are all, in some way, more “teen girl” than we think.”
Now is the time of year when bees
and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped
loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants
in the bright, late-September out-of-doors.
I have found their dried husks in my clothes.
are dervishes because they are dying,
one last sting, a warm place to squeeze
a drop of venom or of honey.
After the stroke we thought would be her last
my grandmother came back, reared back and slapped
nurse across the face. Then she stood up,
walked outside, and lay down in the snow.
Two years later there is no other way
to say, we are waiting. She is silent, light
as an empty hive, and she is breathing.
Assistant to the Director, Estee Schlenner, chose this week’s poem. She was drawn to the poem’s honesty, imagery, and the concept of grace.
By Joy Harjo
For Darlene Wind and James Welch
I think of Wind and her wild ways the year we
had nothing to lose and lost it anyway in the cursed country of the fox. We
still talk about that winter, how the cold froze imaginary buffalo on the
stuffed horizon of snowbanks. The haunting voices of the starved and mutilated
broke fences, crashed our thermostat dreams, and we couldn’t stand it one more
time. So once again we lost a winter in stubborn memory, walked through cheap
apartment walls, skated through fields of ghosts into a town that never wanted
us, in the epic search for grace.
Like Coyote, like Rabbit, we could not
contain our terror and clowned our way through a season of false midnights. We
had to swallow that town with laughter, so it would go down easy as honey.
And one morning as the sun struggled to break ice, and our dreams had found us
with coffee and pancakes in a truck stop along Highway 80, we found grace.
I could say grace was a woman with time on her
hands, or a white buffalo escaped from memory. But in that dingy light it was a
promise of balance. We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring
was lean and hungry with the hope of children and corn.
I would like to say, with grace, we picked
ourselves up and walked into the spring thaw. We didn’t; the next season was
worse. You went home to Leech Lake to work with the tribe and I went south.
And, Wind, I am still crazy. I know there is something larger than the memory
of a dispossessed people. We have seen it.
This poem was chosen by Acting Director of the Center for Poetry, Laurie Hollinger. She was reminded of the new bike lane outside of Snyder Hall at MSU. This poem is also a brief study on loneliness. Loneliness is an isolating feeling, while simultaneously being a feeling shared by many.
By Naomi Shihab Nye
A boy told
roller-skated fast enough
loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,
reason I ever heard
to be a champion.
hard down King William Street
is if it translates
To leave your loneliness
behind you on some street corner
float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,