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Posts Tagged ‘Cathryn Cofell’

Seating Arrangement

November 12, 2010 Comments off

by Cathryn Cofell

We come into the arena from behind
to a crescent moon of folding chairs,
numbered on each back like runners.
It’s a scene we’ve entered a hundred
times before, organized first by tier,

then section, then row. But this is not that place. The seats fit no logical flow, two 5s side by side, a zig zag of 7s, some numbers coupled with letters like I1 or E53C. But not all. This makes no sense at all until that moon slides behind a cloud and I see it’s no longer an arena, we’re in a holding pen jambled with huffing gray stallions, haunches slick with panic. These ponies aren’t supposed to be broken but I know that won’t stop you from trying, already bringing out the bridles in your mind, herding the docile in consecutive order, the wild ones sent to the rack or the slaughter. This is the way the world works best, even if some of us are pulled apart, left with no place to sit.


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Cathryn Cofell has made most of her limited fortune in the non-profit sector and is a sucker for a good cause, meaning she’s easy prey for a needy arts, social justice or mental health organization (no phone calls, please). Her latest project is a collaborative CD called Lip that combines her poetry with the music of Obvious Dog. Her fifth and latest book is titled Kamikaze Commotion, also a fitting descriptor for her poetic style, personality and parenting prowess. You’ll find the poetry in places like MARGIE, Oranges & Sardines and NY Quarterly, but you’ll have to travel to Appleton, Wisconsin for a look at the latter two, or visit cathryncofell.com for a glimpse.

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Split Personality

March 13, 2009 3 comments

I’m a swift walker
a queen bed rocker
a girdle stalker
a spider smacker
a monkey pile
a trip down that girl’s aisle,
a stay at home mom-o-phile.
Shape shifter, beauty grifter,
sexual drifter
watch me jiggle and whistle,
I’m built like a missile.
I’m waiting for you, tucked in lush grass.

Or maybe I’m a little slimmer
a moon-y glimmer, a blinking
swimmer in an old fish eye.
The one you wish for,
the one you’d hiss for, so
pack this cellulite
in your momma’s sigh.
I’m nearly darling, a timeless
starling, a little more care–
less than free.
So bring us the hum,
a symphony of drums, the rumble
of a good epiphany.

by Karla Huston and Cathryn Cofell

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Process notes

Cathryn wrote the first stanza after a conversation about a persona we’d created for our collaborative work, some jokes about funny poems the persona would write if she had the chance. Since the persona is a character called “Thigh,” it made sense that we imagined her with a twin, one she didn’t always get along with, one who wasn’t exactly the same. After Cathryn wrote the first stanza, Karla responded with the other “leg” of the story.

Lost in Waukesha

February 25, 2009 Comments off

Like a flock of confused birds,
Thigh finds herself running head
long into the dark, the sky a shawl
of witches, caught in this spell
of minutes repeating, corners
without edges or names,
street lights blown out, the wind
like an unnamed thought.
Even the bright seeds of stars
are planted deep tonight;
this is how it feels to be planted
deep, buried alive.
The path once seemed so clear
the shuffle of her feet, shift of hip
clutch   brake  shift  clutch
to get a grip, to remember this
is only a temporary loss in the suburbs,
this is not the detour of her life.

by Karla Huston and Cathryn Cofell

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Process notes

This poem was inspired literally by getting lost in Waukesha, Wisconsin, a city with which we were unfamiliar. Trying to drive home after a late-night poetry reading, we were hopelessly turned around and not for the first time. One of us made a joke about writing a poem in which our Thigh character was also lost, when we arrived home (finally), one of us took up the charge by writing the first couple of lines. Since we’d often used Exquisite Corpse to collaborate, we wrote two lines each back and forth by email (with the first line xxx’d out) until we agreed upon a line count and an ending. This one came out with few changes — pretty amazing!

For general notes on their collaborative process, see Miracle Fish. —Eds.

Miracle Fish

February 2, 2009 5 comments

Place the cellophane fish in your palm
and wait. Let him warm to you,
find your cradle, the curve of your inner
nature. His actions will tell your fortune.
A moving head means jealousy,
a finicky tail means indifference.
And so you unfold through all his stirrings.

He bucks and twists in my hand,
nearly falling over himself to get me right.
But every time I open either palm
to this red minnow, he turns a different story.
Today, I am tail over mouth: fickle.
Yesterday, his fin-flick called me passion.
Sometimes late at night, he flips
all the way and claims that I am false.

I want to know how seven seconds
and a sliver of head-shop plastic
know me so well when my own
husband holds me all night, his whole body
cloaked over mine, his whole body absolutely
still? According to the key, his silence says
I am the dead one.
So tell me, Miracle Fish,
how much of me is approximately true,
which scarlet fortune do I believe?

by Karla Huston and Cathryn Cofell

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Process notes

Cofell and Huston have written collaboratively off and on since 2000. They have worked mostly in Exquisite Corpse by email as well as in person but have also experimented with assignments controlled around a theme. Perhaps most successful has been allowing each other to write within abandoned poems and allowing this process to create something new. Because they value friendship and respect each other as writers, they’ve established some working rules that seem to eliminate potential problems. For example, they agree to revise only their own lines and abandon a poem that doesn’t seem to be working. Rather than feeling that their own voices have been muted by writing together, they feel as if they’ve created a third voice that is quite freeing and fun.

Inspired by one of those trinket-shop, cellophane fish, this poem is the result of Karla writing a poem that was stuck. She wasn’t sure where to go with it and had more or less given up. So she “gave it away” to Cathryn who wrote inside the poem and around it, adding her own flourishes and took it somewhere new. Then we looked at it together, tweaking line by line, but only making changes to which we both agreed. We think the finished piece is greater than the sum of its parts.