Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Michael Schumacher. He is the editor of The Fall of America Journals, 1965-1971, by the late Allen Ginsberg, available now from the University of Minnesota Press.

 

Schumacher is also the author of the acclaimed Ginsberg biography Dharma Lion (Minnesota, 2016). Along with Ginsberg’s Iron Curtain Journals and South American Journals and Conversations with Allen Ginsberg (all from Minnesota), he has edited Family Business, selected correspondence between Allen and Louis Ginsberg, and The Essential Ginsberg, a reader of Ginsberg’s best work. He lives in Wisconsin.

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Because poets tend to live as outsiders, poetry communities can be a vital part of our lives and an essential part of American poetics. My questions relate to poetry communities I have known.

How did you get introduced to the world of poetry?

When I was young, a friend introduced me to the poets that gathered around St. Mark’s Church in New York City during the 60’s and 70’s – Anne Waldman, Ted Berrigan, Ed Sanders, etc. Nothing in my sheltered life prepared me for the life of the poets on the Lower East Side. America loves its outlaws and the poets of the Lower East Side were poetry outlaws. They did not have regular jobs. They chose not to be plugged into the mainstream American life. They were not university professors or even teachers. They lived in 4th or 5th floor walkup apartments with bathtubs in the kitchen. They had almost no furniture, slept on mattresses on the floor. They lived outside of any American life that I knew anything about. When I read poems and books with such titles as “Bean Spasms”, “Things to do in Providence,” or “Great Balls of Fire.” I thought What is this and who would name a magazine “Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts”? What are they doing?

Poet’s Work

By Phoebe MacAdams

Poem

For Lewis MacAdams

This morning the birds
ate most of the black sunflower seeds.
I fill up the feeder,
watch squirrels on the grass
look at asparagus fern in the garden
and read old poems.
I move from room to room,
think about my mother, my sister.
I sit quietly for a long time
then mail letters and observe the hummingbird.

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Andrew Weatherhead. His latest book, $50,000, is available from Publishing Genius.

 

Weatherhead is a writer and artist from Chicago, Illinois. His other books include the poetry collections TODD and Cats and Dogs — and a chapbook, The Kids I Teach, with Mallory Whitten. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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About Ocean

By Eleanore Lee

Poem

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…
—I Corinthians 12:13

I’ll try to explain.
First you immerse.
Okay, go ahead.
There’s water all around.
You’re suddenly submerged
In meaning.
Next, let go. Start slow.
Float.
Simply stretch straight out, face down.
Flippers if you have them help.
Occasional gentle foot movements
And you shoot forward.
You can peer up, lift your mask and see
The green rim of distant coast.
(But we’re not doing that now.)

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Sebastian Castillo. His new book, Not I, is available from Word West Press.

 

Castillo is the author of 49 Venezuelan Novels (Bottlecap Press). You can find his writing in Hobart, Peach Mag, X-R-A-Y, and elsewhere. He lives in New York, where he teaches writing.

Paragraph

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Okay, poet, what’s your favorite word in English. And why.

Cusp.
It’s a meeting place. It’s undefined, flexible, mysterious.
I like the variety of sounds. The hard kah. How the sexy  s  kisses the  p.

Daddy

By Michael Montlack

Poem

They say it unabashedly.

Sometimes a twenty-something,
half my size, will lean across the bar
to touch my leg. Hey, Daddy,
he says, can I buy you a beer?

Others in their late thirties
or mid-forties, some even
older than me. And still they
say it. In hushed baby talk.
Or a taunting whisper.
Part plea, part demand.
A bratty whine. Usually
punctuated with a hungry sigh
when I take off my belt.

Pulling Bastard

By Kelly Gray

Poem

Come here, monster child. I lead weary. I take your hand and look at your knees. Your ankles with flea bites, your eyes cocked.

Come here, monster child, I see you in me, give me your palm. We lick piss into prayer. We lick like our hearts are made of milk. We lick like three is infinity, but we know that it was only ever:
not like that, not like this, put that down.

Photograph by Alexis Rhone Fancher

Tell us about Christopher Theofanidis’ musical composition Conference of the Birds and Aṭṭār’s long allegorical poem The Conference of the Birds, both of which are the inspiration for your new chapbook, Like a Bird with a Thousand Wings.

 The Conference of the Birds, the 12th Century Sufi allegorical poem, was written by Persian master poet Aṭṭār, and tells the story of the seeker’s journey towards God, and, therefore, towards the evolution of self through understanding and connection. In Aṭṭār’s Conference, all the birds of the world convene and determine that they need a ruler and that they will make a pilgrimage to the distant land of the mythic and divine bird, Simorgh. The journey to this faraway land leads the birds through seven valleys of understanding, the first of which requires the birds to cast off all the preconceived ideas and dogma in their thinking, and the final of which requires annihilation of the self in order to attain complete communion with the divine. Beginning with the discord and lack of purpose of the birds and culminating in the discovery that they are all individually and together Simorgh, The Conference of the Birds is a timeless model of transforming confusion and lack of unity into the realization of harmony.

Theofanidis’ piece, released in 2018, is inspired by Aṭṭār’s Conference and traces the metaphoric journey of the birds in seven short character pieces, each lasting between 1 and 3 minutes, and each focusing on a highly defined musical personality evoked by the corresponding valley. As he says in the introduction, “Much of the string writing is inspired by the flocking movement of birds; that is, there is a ‘group logic’—a kind of unity of movement and purpose in which all the parts are highly interdependent.”

but the bird doesn’t know it. The bird is thirty birds who soared
out of dreaming to invent sky, thirty birds flying in the formation

of a bird. God tells them, Open, O moon-beak O silver-black O sliver
of luck, and the bird says, Break me until I’m whole. God says, Empty,  

and the bird spills a splendor of jewels from their thirty beaks into
the valley. Don’t think I’m a diamond, God says, Find me, and hands

Swimming Down

By Holly Sinclair

Poem

An armored shark in lava, I move on all fours across the rug
While your daughters leap over me, shrieking.
With an unblinking eye, I feel the heat of the earth rise—
Its erupting egg, yolk-rug and the shore of the bed, as we play.

That night you wake up to tell me you were sinking.
Half-asleep, I say, water in dreams always means emotion.
I think I feel a pair of cool hands pressing on my temples,
A vial of cooking oil in my pocket. 

Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffith

In an interview published in The Sun (June 2018) you said:

I don’t believe anything is over. The Civil Rights Movement was a core moment. The lessons it taught us — about social activism and political engagement and strategy — are still very much in play. Many of the people who were active in that movement are alive today — and not particularly old, either. Ruby Bridges, the kindergarten student who helped desegregate schools in New Orleans, turned sixty-three last year. She’s not even old enough to retire!

The Civil Rights Movement became a model for the Women’s Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, and much of the anti-war and anti-poverty movements. Who we are as activists today was shaped in many ways by the Civil Rights Movement. And the fundamental questions it raised have not gone away. As a culture, we are still learning how to be civil and how to acknowledge each other’s rights.

Is this still true for you?

It is! It’s all still true. (Though Ruby Nell Bridges Hall will actually be 66 in September of 2020, so I suppose now she is old enough to retire. It is past time for us younger folks to be doing the hard work, and thankfully many are rising to the occasion.) This is why so much of my poetry, which is in many ways about the moment we are living in right now, is also so deeply steeped in history. History stays with us every step of the way.

Conspiracy

By Camille Dungy

Poem

            to breathe together

Last week, a woman smiled at my daughter and I wondered
if she might have been the sort of girl my mother says spat on my aunt
when they were children in Virginia all those acts and laws ago.

Half the time I can’t tell my experiences apart from the ghosts’.

A shirt my mother gave me settles into my chest.

I should say onto my chest, but I am self conscious—
the way the men watch me while I move toward them
makes my heart trip and slide and threaten to bruise
so that, inside my chest, I feel the pressure of her body,
her mother’s breasts, her mother’s mother’s big, loving bounty.

Tell us more about the title of your book. Why Ugly Music?

The title was taken from a line in my poem “Diary Entry #1: Revisitation”: “You’ll fall on the world / like and ugly music.” I didn’t realize how influential music was to my poetry until putting together this manuscript. Not only have individual songs influenced my work, but also the language of music appears over and over in my poetry. To me ugly music lives in the space between cacophony and euphony. It’s not exactly inharmonious nor is it beautiful. This book is my tribute to all the sounds of my life, the songs, the noises that have added up to this moment when I must play them all at once.