Archive for the ‘Mutating the Signature’ Category

Dear Seven: A Circle of Epistles (6)

April 1, 2009 1 comment

Part 6 in a series of 7

Dear cin,

I’m writing to say hello. We are new friends. Which means I know you and I don’t. So, I will be the protagonist of this letter, you will be the ghost.
New friend, you “have land” in Wisconsin! I promise to teach you how to fly fish. I’ll tell you this: casting is a beautiful dance, and there’s nothing as luxurious as standing in a stream, but you need to accept that fish are not abstract. Catching a fish is like looking into the face of every mistake you’ve ever made — the eyes, innocent golden disks, look and look. And yet to cradle the fish in its slick gasping skin, free the hook and slip the body back into velvet… Life must be lived to be understood.
An odd moment: a squirrel fat as a small raccoon is scratching at my screen. He refuses to face the music. Winter is dawning on us. Ice weights the trees, each branch like white coral. My roof, who knows the ordinary boringness of a house, is silent while snow humps up in the road.
Recently, I found a list of goals in an old notebook:

1. Learn the mandolin

I keep my invisible mandolin under wraps — the future gleams, and my dread of 2 and 3.
I think of this thing about happiness, and our promise to emptiness. Each morning I wake, say I’m sorry out loud, to myself. In emergencies, I quote my favorite poetry — a poem Lexa wrote at eleven years old:

No it isn’t   no it’s not
Yes it is   it’s getting quite hot.
Summer is out   Summer is in.
Summer is here   so let’s go swim.

I once heard you read at the Green Mill, something about the inevitability of men and road construction in spring. Actually, you don’t read, you sing. Teach me! I’ll wait for you with my loving mandolin — we’ll sing something something something about my mother’s mismarriage and its residue.
I once asked you if it was true, “Girls levitate each other at slumber parties?” You rose to a witchy laugh and looked at me. You said it’s easy — mothers, girlfriends, wives and daughters all know. Why aren’t scientists studying this and winning awards? No magic but science is how I see things, yet with two fingers you’ve raised whole girls in pajamas and white socks… light as a feather stiff as a board. Boys don’t float, we play tackle basketball and swear and weigh ourselves down in forts.
cin, I should have written more about children. We will both be living the truth of babies soon. I don’t know what to say. From here, below zero, I can only quote William Matthews, “Our children are the only message we can leave them.”
Keep well, Chris


by Chris Green

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Editor’s note: This letter was published in Columbia Poetry Review no. 20, 2007, and is reprinted here to preserve the integrity of the series.

Him or Me

March 31, 2009 Comments off

Poetry Conversations, Part 3 of 4

I realize now that it was a big mistake
to purchase a Zebra sight unseen.
More caution was necessary,
and I’d been foolish to make such
a large transaction on the internet
with a company that I didn’t even know.
The animal was delivered in a large crate
that could only be opened with a crowbar,
giving the delivery vehicle plenty of time
to get away, as I didn’t have a crowbar
handy at the time of the delivery.
When I finally got the crate open after
a half hour of banging and swearing,
I immediately realized that the so-called
“zebra” was in fact a horse that had been
painted to look like a zebra.
Poorly painted, I might add,
as there was paint slopped everywhere,
some of which wasn’t even completely dry.
Not that it wasn’t a very nice horse,
probably a thoroughbred from the
look of him. Worth more than I had
paid perhaps, but I didn’t want a horse,
I wanted a Zebra. That was what I
had ordered. Referring to the internet
receipt, I called the customer service number
and instead of unhelpful call center workers
got an adult chat hotline. Surprisingly,
they were of no help either, even after I explained
the whole situation to them.
Disappointed, I went back outside
and found the horse eating all of my flowers.
He’d already made a huge mess in my driveway
and kicked in the driver’s side window of
my car. He had quite a temper, which was
understandable because he was likely upset
about having been painted to look like a zebra,
when he was obviously a horse.
We’d both been deceived, that was for sure,
although I still don’t know who was worse off
for it, him or me.

by Andy Anderson
Music by Andy and Ryan Hoke, Wild Goose Creative

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(For process notes, see Part 1.)

I Should Write Soap Operas

March 30, 2009 6 comments

My neighbor, well technically she isn’t my neighbor
since she lives on the other side of the building, two floors below,
appeared with a baby a few weeks ago.
I’ve been meaning to tell Paul about the baby
but the daily hum drum of life — work, rest, write —
has blocked my thoughts, but today,
we were walking Daisy and turned a corner
and there she was — baby strapped to chest
with its legs swinging. I think it might be a boy,
but I’m not sure. All the other time I’ve seen it,
it has been covered in a red blanket, which is no help
since red is like yellow when babies are concerned.
Anyway, I’m losing track of my point.
I think the baby is stolen. Paul tells me she is probably babysitting.
I say, She probably stole it. Then add,
But not from another country, as if this legitimizes
my comment. Paul rolls his eyes and tells me she can steal
the baby in one of my poems, but this is not
why I am writing this poem. I’ll admit
I’m the kind of guy who enjoys a giggle
when I hear of someone objecting at a wedding.
I’ll admit I’ve watched Soap Operas since I was eight
and rooted for the villain most of the time.
I adored Vivian and Sami on Days of Our Lives.
My mother threatened to quit taping episodes
when I would cheer for them. You might not know,
Sami stole her baby sister. Well, she stole her half baby sister,
but only she and her cheating mother Marlena
knew about the half part. I’m not saying this is the case
with the mystery baby in my building. I’m only saying
it’s OK not to accept what’s in front of you at face value.

by Genevieve Lyons and Dustin Brookshire

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Process notes

Dustin writes:
Genevieve and I like to do a basic poetry workshop writing prompt. We give each other five words. In the case of “I Should Write Soap Operas,” Genevieve gave me five words to use. Once we have our words, we have to write a poem within seven days. (If one of us doesn’t write a poem, the slacker could be subject to a wedgie and/or a smack with a large stick.) Upon finishing a poem with the words, we call each other to do a first read. At this point we do not delve into deep criticism; we keep it simple — i.e. I like where you’re going with the poem, etc. Then, we meet up on day seven to hash it out. We each read our poems and give the other a chance to read the poem quietly. We go through each other’s poem and mark 3 to 5 lines that we believe to be strong and 3 to 5 lines that we believe are weak. We explain why we picked the lines and continue to discuss the poems. After the meeting we work on revising our poems and trade the next version via email, sometimes slipping into a phone conversion, making sure to comment specifically on the revisions made. We keep this up until we each have a “finished” poem.


March 29, 2009 Comments off

(Click on image to view at a larger size.)

by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen and John M. Bennett

Process notes

John writes:
This and the next one* were done by Jukka emailing me his visuals, which I then printed out and added to. Then I scanned them again.

*To be included later in the issue. —Eds.

Class Action

March 28, 2009 1 comment

My galpal bought everything—even her apples—through PayPal.
“I just love the sound of it,” she said. “Some ethereal Pal paying with my money…”
Like that was a favor? I said she was crazy to trust a virtual buddy
and told her that CNN just ran a story about this illegal

tender, that her Pay Pal was really a Pay Foe. Her eyes glinted like coins
in the belt she bought me from, a replica
of their Greatest Hits Gold, the back etched with lyrics from “Mama Mia.”
“Listen,” I said. “You have a problem. Anyone who joins

a club called ‘Rip Us Off’ with annual meetings in tourist traps and airport bars
needs help.” Her eyes glazed. “Ooo,” she squeaked. “I have to check
the status of my potluck entree, Old ElPaso’s Tex Mex
Upside-down Surprise. I hope the cornmeal crust’s not in arrears.”

I told my galpal she needed some fresh mall air, live pushy salespeople, on commission.
“Walk around, press the flesh, you know? Reality, remember?”
She reminded me that last time she left the house she got into a fender bender
with a UPS truck delivering her order. “Poetry or fiction?”

Her iBook blinked a message about unauthorized electronic transfers.
“Gotta go!” she said. “My account! My Prozac!”
Like it or not, she was part of a class action lawsuit with Germany, Greece, Finland, Denmark—
the whole damned EEU and part of Asia. PayPal had screwed up, and the bankers

were confiscating the grilled cheese with the Virgin’s face toasted in
when bidding on e-bay reached sixteen grand. “MORAL VALUES”
spelled out in pepperoni on a pizza: that seller was deluged
with offers after the election. “Red in Ohio” posted on

his Seller’s Profile: “What would Jesus pay for shipping and handling?”
“Christ!” I said when my galpal finally called me. “What the hell
are you doing auctioning off your styrofoam wedding bells?
Is your intellectual credit no longer in good standing?”

My galpal huffed—perhaps I’d forgotten about her degree
in Consumer Studies. “You think you have a mandate?
You think you’re the patronizing Patron Saint of Patrons!” It was too late.
“Buh-bye—I’m off to blog,” I said. “At least that’s free.”

by Denise Duhamel and Amy Lemmon

Process notes

Amy writes:
“Class Action” is from a series Denise and I have been working on. The poem has these two constraints: our stanzas are written in abba rhyme, and there must be a mention of Abba, the singing group.

Variations on a Theme

March 27, 2009 Comments off

Painter 1: Let me paint over this part.
Painter 2: But that’s my signature.

Woman: Will you not sit down for just ten minutes? Ten minutes is all I need.
Man: I gave you ten hours yesterday. You know we have run dry.
Woman: I will dig a well deep into your skull.
Man: My brains are dust.
Woman: Then we will excavate the marrow of your bones.

by Tammy Ho Lai-ming and Reid Mitchell

Download the MP3 (reading by Reid)

Process notes

Tammy writes:
“Variations on a Theme” is composed of two very short and quirky sections. They are in fact variations of the same theme: intensive collaboration going sour. The first part features two painters working on a painting together. The second part is more ambiguous on what the man and the woman are collaborating; the explicit sexual language adds a gothic atmosphere to the piece.

For additional process notes, see “Debating Love.”

Fade (Gas Total)

March 26, 2009 1 comment

When Dreams Swim With Cities of Men

March 25, 2009 6 comments

Pipe dreams, they’re called, leading to nowhere,
steps off a parapet, a leap into the chasm,
that trill in the chest
that pause before one silent lift.
Rushing temples burn a heart,
rush of a city, wind against skin,
a place you had forgotten until now.

Pressed against invisible threads the clouds hiss,
don’t go too high. Scents of pine and laurel rise
from humus beds, sending soft, beguiling
messages of comfort —
an urge to burrow competes
with a cirrus-streaked bowl of sky.
Moisture glistens against panes,
scratching branches etch gaunt wraiths of the past.
They coax you down from the stratosphere
to ring the sentries, shatter glass,
wrestle slights, travel
into a channel riddled with crevices,
a game of blind man’s bluff into depths
charted or unknown.

A contest that wills you to expose roots
lost under melted glaciers,
entwined in the hulls of shipwrecks
where liquid dreams turn on a dime.

Relish worlds deep and salty, blur the line
between breathing underwater and taking flight.

by Deb Scott and Christine Swint

Process Notes

We started this work with a desire to create and collaborate together, but no clear idea of where and how exactly to start. Our intent was always to have fun, and to not worry about the finished project. As long as we were poeming and creating, we didn’t care (too much) what the finished product looked and sounded like. Deb was interested in learning about the video pieces Christine had been doing and that seemed a good jumping-off point. Christine edited some film clips she had and Deb free-wrote for five minutes in response to the images, not knowing what Christine had in mind.

Deb took the free-write, developed a first line and Christine followed. Alternate lines created a 16-line poem, of approximately 16 beats per line, initially broken into 2 stanzas.

Christine took the first revision (with Deb’s heartfelt gratitude) and broke the lines, reshaping the poem into what is presented today. A few minor word changes were made here and there but the language of the poem is nearly identical to where it started from.

We both agreed that one part of the video didn’t fit the poem and so it was cut (with a promise from Christine that it will reappear some time in the future as part of a different work). Deb sent Christine a link to her Flickr page with a number of sky images that Christine could work in if they fit. Then the hardest part (as far as Deb was concerned): did the read poem match the length of the video? Deb recorded the poem in 2 parts and Christine mixed the recording, the images and added background music. (Deb is going to learn how to do this too, she swears.)

Christine and Deb communicated via email and Google documents. They’ve never spoken or met (and both look forward to doing so some time. Maybe AWP 2010).

Watch the completed video here. –Eds.

Which Broke When It Fell

March 24, 2009 Comments off

Also a rotation results when you turn,
replacement for what you were.
The sun, dealing with its satellites,
showers them with light and heat
and flares of blinding energy. We can
only observe an eclipse
through a pinhole, although once
I accidentally looked out and saw
the sun behind the moon. The memory
has stayed a blank on my retina for years.
As does my memory of who you were,
once, before the necessary
unfastening of body from self.


Energetically intent as through a pinhole

a sphere away. Yet,   yes : to bindingly
affix like that at some precise intersection:

arm of the body making “circle” and the self
snowed in wordlessness can’t separate

(even once) tying, trying to tap lightly
on the exposed back wall of memory
and (two) look for a change in the quality
of light say, it was a bell and rang (accidental)
or no, a curvature of devotion came between:


The sweep of an arm, things brushed off
into the sphere of the lost. I’d want
to replace the bell, which broke when it fell.
I’d want to memorize the loop
of some bird’s flight, circumnavigate
the mind’s eye, watching. The shape
of a perfect hollow ring, sound that widens
out into space slowly, trailing far
behind the comet’s tail of light.


Not to what began the joy ride but bulleted

a taillight when you saw my last comma
stricken from the triptych that’s what I’ll be compared to
on the downshift from the City of Rocks if I fail
to hear the broken ring traceable to the dashed bell
and the loopy birds that rumble before they smooth themselves
and settle in stone enclaves replacements for the whistle


or the voice—   reeding by riverbend—
which I don’t keep because it melts in the mouth of its spell
what phase is sound in now? period

exists only in time and disintegrates in the   interval
where the body   vanishes

by K. Alma Peterson and Kathleen Jesme

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For process notes, see “Giver of Givens.”

Black: A Sonnet

March 23, 2009 3 comments

A well-fed crow, his caw the clap of gods,
hews darkness from the hand of wilding night,
his feathers glossed in amethyst, at odds
with morning’s eye, for nothing’s left of light.

In solitude he counts the spoils, his mien
both proud and distant; then with taunting grace
he renders bones to relics sharp and keen,
vain offerings as sentinel of place.

He gives himself to sleep, his corvine nest
unhinged by lunar apparitions, black
and thick like dreams he thought he’d put to rest,
tomorrow’s omens in shadow and wrack.

The midnight gods can offer no reprieve
to one who feeds on embers of the eve.

Scott Wiggerman and Andrea L. Watson

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For process notes, see “White: A Ghazal.”