Friday, September 28, 2012

Shelby Stephenson

"I rise because you sink"

I rise because you sink.
I smell the nests of birds I pass where we have walked before.
Give me your hand.

Everywhere I go I see your face.

“Talk to me!”

Let’s go camping: you can play your uke.
We’re a duo.
O I know others might want to see
how we borrow from the angels to keep our living strong.

When you seek out the roads, I’ll be there.
We need no more, now that the best is yet to come.
The selves we have been or become
lived centuries ago in others.

Your mother’s an expression of beauty.
And mine.
No mother or dad climbs above another for the ride.
I am trying to show our best character,
as the poet takes Depression out of its grave
and stands it up and says, “Run!”
And Garbage climbs into the truck.

Past, Present, and Future get up and race, too, looking for a warmer clime.
To be in the middle of something is to hear you say on a cold, February morning,
“You want to walk with me?”


"I say I'm always wanting you"

I say I’m always wanting you; having you makes it easier to face tomorrow,
even those times I can’t touch you,
like lovers in a fog over there in the Nimrod Stephenson Memorial Cemetery,
especially Martha Johnson and Greatgrandpap Manly Stephenson (died 1912),
Civil War Vet and lover, farmer, and friend to July, the slave girl.
Always loving you shuts me out and hurts me too.
So you walk with Cricket and I catch you later,
my intentions encouraging your style.
Behold, the sun itself, and on its visage, slating its breast on yours,
the balances and bends, right here, where the roots of my raising run deep.
See the frosted grass, the white and blue clouds.
Behold, in western Johnston County, far from western New York State,
or in Wisconsin, where we lived in the brittle cheer of ice-fisherman and sailors,
behold, on Lake Mendota, those sail-boats writing smoothly as on glass −
there in Pittsburgh, the trolley and the Cathedral of Learning,
the lake at Canonsburg where we camped and fished and cooked.

Your eyes float out of sweetgum, come to me through that buttermilk-sky
while you lean against the moon and cheese, your hair the breath of rye
tall under stars higher than I can stretch, though I reach for you
and our fingers almost touch dawn.
The sun squeezes light in my face.
An image sweeps before me, how Sunset must come with taste and as much grace.
The rock gathers us around and holds what splendor spins,
an iceberg in our dreams, melting, the sweat and panic, no button to push.
Tell me how you swish and set your body poised to frail and sing?

Could this be a dream?
I sit and look out − away from meanness and pain.
You are the castle of my dreams, my junior and senior highs, prep and graduate,
the in and out, history and varied trimming of discussions,
the balm and the fever.
You are intention set in sprung motion −
hail to rain, blushes in snow hushed −
you are this place, this South
come down from the winter of your birthplace.

I step back to see workings intricate and beautiful −
the thousands of farms we pass,
the surprise and the drama, the once-upon-a-time-ness
we met and came here,
quiet, certain.


"I want to hold your hand"

I want to hold your hand.
Exercise did nothing for me.
My eyes on the lilac in the hedge, I hurry back to you,
noting the lot-well, filled in.

With your father, the lawyer, entrepreneur, marrying Linda Collens (four daughters)
your mother, Newton Center actress, daughter of Charles Collens, architect (Cloisters)
with the Letchworth connection, Mabel, your father’s mother living on Owasco Lake,
with our courtship there lapping and ebbing and camping in Letchworth Park,
with William Prior Letchworth giving the land to the State of New York,
with Letchworth your middle name,
with Glenwood Falls marveling beacon sparkling,
with the slave girl, July, bearing up to show us how to live,
with One The Angel in the grave working us to humanity’s steeple.
I’ve had nothing but pleasure since you’ve been well.
Every day’s a holiday, today, Valentine’s.
To your memory I’m true − including the three sleepless nights soon after our honeymoon,
the valium your dad gave you for sleeping, your yearning unfocused,
your body present though not returning the ritual we celebrated 30 July 66.
Rings of gold will not rust our 50th six years away.
O the magnetic flesh waiting.
Where the soul moves you turn to distant places, your walks along the old house
calling for the hearth to line up our flames, stars shining bright.

Of relatives in “important” positions, ceremonies, recognitions −
all endorsements arrive in spirit so that they appear
shiny and unaligned with expectations
bearing the dawn and the dusk,
the first and last the same ever changeless and changed,
points of view, the edge of the water,
the wonderfulness of bluebirds, feeding in the field, their flights down,
fluttering gracefully as maidens praying.
The delicate curve the moon peals promises prayer,
as you keep your eye on the page, wanting to understand.
Others may wonder; yet friends shall walk in and complete the picture.

My heart’s stripped today.
It’s bulging with push.
The stars twinkle around us.
My feeling unfolds without a goal,
embracing inimitable women of the world.

© Shelby Stephenson 2012

Shelby Stephenson's Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, Allen Grossman, judge. Find out more at www.shelbystephenson.com

Friday, September 21, 2012

Gary Carson

The Weather of Railroads
Nodding on a cockcrow Amtrak,
Lulled by the ticking of ties,
The sweep of a floodstage Missouri,
Birds wheeling the luminous oxbows.

Railclatter crossing bells.

Back in the diner,
Conductor blows rings at forms:
“John door’s broke, AC’s broke,
the train crew’s broke…”

Trackside junkyards flow:
Miles of loading docks,
Rustpiles, tank cars on sidings.
Cranes dangle hooks over
Wrecks heaped like husks:
A school bus full of mufflers,
Cracked foundry ladles
Like church bells on a flatbed.

Black grandma across the aisle:
“Jesus what makes you breathe..,”

But Heaven’s only a switchback
In this here to there stream
Of iron slang and rocking Pullmans,

And we are the weather of railroads,
Just blowing through.

Thunderstorm Seen As an Event of the Central Nervous System
Midnight,
41st & Walnut,
walking the dog in the rain,
neural nets lulled
with St. Pauli Girl Dark,
Missouri Gold.

Sidewalks stream
this side of the optics.
High beams flare.
Twig snags whirlpool gutters.

The cyclone night
flows through the cortex,
synaptic triggers
on currents of association,
retinas wandering
riffles and pools,
archipelagos of blacktop,
focusing rain in lamp light,
snails in rings of reflection.

Dog sniffs
old black roots
then signs his name.

Splashing across Walnut
in lightning and downpour,
we are neon fiber,
conscious filaments.
Ventral roots thunder.
Alpha waves wash cellular shores.

The city pulses,
nervous with sirens,
the weather for tonight:

thunderheads of the spine,
drumrolls
in the reptilian complex.

Leviticus
Am That I Am burns a bush,
Cold flame, shrub of veins;
Lamb with seven horns & eyes
Savors a bed of flesh coals,
Fretting leprosy in fire,
Incense of screams, sentient offering;
Laps bullock blood & dung,
Demanding carcasses for idols,
Rams for sin, kids of goats
Stripped to the spine for Trinity;
Host of Hosts down on His knees,
Slurping gristle, rump, fat of the innards.

How He loves the little children.

© Gary Carson 2012

Gary Carson is the author of the apocalyptic thrillers Hot Wire and Phase Four, both available from Amazon and BlastedHeath.com. His short stories have appeared in Hardluck Stories, Noir Originals, and the 2009 Thuglit anthology, "Sex, Thugs and Rock & Roll." He edits and writes for The Ancient World Review (http://www.ancientworldreview.com) and Ominous Planet (http://www.ominousplanet.com), and his writer's site can be found at http://www.gacarson.com.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Donal Mahoney

BACK THEN AND WRITE NOW

When I began writing in 1960, there were no website "magazines." Print journals were the only place to have poems published. Writers used typewriters, carbon paper, a white potion to cover up mistakes and “snail mail” to prepare and submit poems for publication. Monday through Friday I'd work at my day job. Weekends I'd spend writing and revising poems. Revising poems took more time than writing them and that is still the case today, decades later.

On Monday morning on the way to work, I'd sometimes mail as many as 14 envelopes to university journals and "little magazines," as the latter were then called. Some university journals are still with us. Some are published in print only and others have begun the inevitable transformation by appearing in print and simultaneously on the web.

"Little magazines," especially those published in print without a presence on the web, are rare in 2012. One might say, however, that their format has been reincarnated in hundreds of website publications that vary in design, content and frequency of publication. Depending on the site, new poems can appear daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually. For many writers, these websites are a godsend. Some "serious" writers, however, still feel that a poem has not been "published" until it has appeared on paper.

I can't remember what postage cost in the Sixties but it was very cheap. Nevertheless, it would often take six months or more to hear back from many editors of university journals and little magazines. Sometimes I would get no response despite my enclosing the mandatory stamped self-addressed envelope (SASE).

Submission etiquette at that time required that a writer send nothing other than the poems, usually a maximum of three, and the SASE. What's more, simultaneous submissions were universally forbidden. I don't remember any editor wanting a biographical note until the piece was accepted and sometimes not even then. All that mattered was the poem and how much the editor liked it.

Today, in contrast, some web editors want a letter from the author up front "introducing" the poems and/or some aspect of the author's life. I've never been comfortable providing that kind of information in front of poems I'm submitting. I can't imagine lobbying for poems that I hope speak for themselves.

In the Sixties, my average acceptance rate was roughly one poem out of 14 submissions of three poems each. Two or three poems accepted rarely happened but my hopes were always high.

The rejected poems I'd revise if I thought they needed it; then I'd send all of them out again to different publications. Often the poems would have to be retyped because the postal process or some editor's fondness for catsup or mustard would result in messy returned manuscripts. I followed this pattern of writing, revising and submitting for seven years. I loved it because I didn't know any other way. I had no idea that in 30 years there would be an easier way to submit poems, thanks to the personal computer. What a difference. No more carbon paper. No more catsup or mustard.

In 1971 I quit writing after having had a hundred or so poems accepted by some 80 print publications ranging from university journals to hand-assembled little magazines. I even made it into a few commercial magazines and received checks for as much as $25.00. I was on a roll or so I told myself.

The reason I quit writing poems is because I had accepted a much more difficult day job as an editor with a newspaper. Previous editorial jobs had not been that taxing. I still had enough energy to work on poems at night as well as on weekends. But the new job wore me out. The money was good and helped me deal with expenses that had increased as my responsibilities had increased. Other demanding jobs would follow in subsequent decades. As a result, I didn't return to writing poems until 2008 after I had retired.

I hadn't really thought about working on poems in retirement but my wife bought me a computer and showed me where I had stored--37 years earlier--several cardboard boxes full of unfinished poems. It took a month or more to enter drafts of the 200 to 300 poems in my new computer. It took longer to revise and polish them. Finally, I sent out the “finished” versions by email to both online and print publications.

It took a few weeks at the start but eventually lines for new poems began to pop into my noggin. Alleluia! I was ever so thankful to "hear" them because it answered an important question--namely, could I still write new poems after such a long hiatus?

I found submitting by email a joy. For a while I sent an occasional poem by snail mail to journals that did not take email submissions. But in six months I stopped doing that. I did not want to lick envelopes any longer. Looking back over the last four years, I'm thankful for the response my work has received from various editors in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.

Since I am an old-timer writing and submitting poems, I'm sometimes asked if I notice any difference in the "market" for poetry in 2012 compared with the Sixties. I'm also asked if I would I do anything differently if I were starting out today.

Yes, I notice a difference in the "market" today, and, yes, I would do some things differently if I were starting out now.

If I were starting out now, I would revise poems even more than I did when I was young. I revised a lot back then and I revise a lot today. I believe strongly in something Dylan Thomas once said—namely, that no poem is ever finished; it is simply abandoned.

It's taken four years for me to gain some sense of how the "market" for poetry has changed over the last 40 years. In preparing my own submissions, I have had a chance to read a lot poetry by young writers, some already established and many unknown. Sometimes I compare their work in my mind with the work of poets I remember from the Sixties.

Although Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, among others, had their followers back in the Sixties, and still do today, I find that in 2012 "confessional" poetry has become even more prominent. Some of it strikes me as good, both in content and technique, but that is a subjective assessment. Much of it, however, strikes me as "raw," for want of a better word. In some cases I also find it difficult to distinguish certain poems from prose disguised in broken lines. I don't remember "prose poems" as a category unto itself when I started out. Today prose poems seem to be very well accepted in some circles but I suspect they would have been a hard sell in the Sixties.

I suppose as a stripling and now as a codger I have written what some might call "confessional" poetry, both good and bad. Nevertheless, I think a young writer does well to write about someone or something other than one's self. Observing other people carefully and writing about their mannerisms and aspects of their behavior can help to develop one's craft. This is important because as most writers know, writing poetry or fiction is as much a craft as it is an art and without craft, writing may never reach the level of art.

Perhaps it is my imagination but it seems that over the last couple of years there has been an increase in poems written about broken relationships or other distressful matters of the heart. The writers of these poems seem to be primarily women who sound very angry and no doubt with good cause.

Apparently male poets find it easier to move on from a break-up and seek love or companionship in all the right or wrong places. I don't think that's a new development, men being who they are. I hope it's not chauvinist of me to suggest that the power to motivate a man to behave better usually lies with the woman. I feel that a woman has a gift she should not unwrap too quickly no matter how eager a man may be to undo the ribbons. Not many ribbons were undone in the Fifties prior to vows. In that era, of course, women were old-fashioned by current standards. The ones who were not "old-fashioned" were called a lot of things but not "liberated."

There are other types of subject matter common in poetry today that didn't appear too frequently in the Sixties. Graphic sex, science fiction and horror seem to appeal to many male writers, although some females also like to write about these subjects today.

I've never been interested in horror and I doubt that I would have the imagination to handle it well. I never fantasize about anything that even borders on science fiction. Sex, on the other hand, is a different matter. But sex has always struck me as the easiest subject to write about. I could write about sex well, I believe, but why should I? Why should I make my wife angry? Even if I were single, I suspect I'd be restrained by a line from Emily Dickinson that I first read it in college. Ms. Dickinson wrote, "how public like a frog."

In contrast with my early years in writing, I am never satisfied today with a poem even when it has been published. If I go back and re-read a published poem a year later, I am certain to find something "wrong" with it and I feel obligated to fix it. Sometimes I can't fix it but in the process of trying, I occasionally find that I am suddenly in the middle of writing a different poem, an offshoot of the original piece or something entirely different. I've found benefits and problems in that.

Rodin's "The Thinker" is set in bronze and marble and not subject to revision but few if any of my poems acquire that status in my mind. And if one of them does, I eventually come to feel the poem could be improved, even if at that moment I might not know how to make it better. Maybe in six months I'll read it again and hear something errant in the lines that I will suddenly know how to fix. It doesn't hurt, I believe, for a writer to listen to a poem the way a mechanic listens to a motor. Both want to get everything right.

My purpose in writing this piece has been to record "for the ages" what it's been like writing and submitting poems in two distinct eras. I certainly like the ease with which technology today has enabled me to compose a poem. The "delete" key is wonderful. But there is something to be said for the anticipation caused by finding an envelope in the mailbox from an editor, the way a contributor might have done back in the Sixties. One knew immediately by the thickness of the envelope whether all three poems had been rejected or one or two of them had been accepted. That was a wonderful time for a young writer to cut his or her teeth.


© Donal Mahoney 2012

Note: MuDJoB Has not previously posted much in the way of non-fiction articles, but could not resist putting up this piece by Mr. Mahoney, and we think his insight into the "industry" may prove inspiring and perhaps helpful to other writers looking to get their stuff out there. Good writing will almost always find an appropriate venue. Thank you, Donal.

Donal Mahoney has had work published in MuDJob and various print and electronic publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

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