What’s your latest creative project?

My new book is titled, Letters to My City. It’s a mix of essays and poems about Los Angeles and beyond.

The UCLA PhD candidate in History, Peter Chesney offers this synopsis on the book: “A street poet and a tour guide, through L.A. places and L.A. letters, Mike Sonksen means it when he says he’s going to share authority with folks at the grassroots in this multicultural city. Mike delivers on his promise and more, amplifying voices I for one might never have heard without him. That and he taught me, a critic of car culture, that an ethical manner of reading space, even as you drive through it, is possible. Props to a man who does the hard work of listening to the sound of the city!”

The Riots were the week before my prom
A month & a half before my graduation
Southern California was a time bomb

Race relations warring like Vietnam
My crew more like the United Nations
The Riots were the week before my prom

So Cal needed mindfulness like Thich Nhat Hanh
Multicultural coalitions for communication
Southern California was a time bomb

Elizabeth Cantwell is the guest. Her new poetry collection, All the Emergency-Type Structures, is available from Inlandia Institute.

 

Cantwell lives in Claremont, CA, where she teaches Humanities at The Webb Schools. She has a B.A. from Yale University and a Ph.D. in Literature & Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of journals, including DIAGRAM, The Cincinnati Review, The Los Angeles Review, Hobart, and The Missouri Review.

Her first book of poems, Nights I Let The Tiger Get You (Black Lawrence Press, 2014), was a finalist for the 2012 Hudson Prize; she is also the author of a chapbook, Premonitions (Grey Book Press, 2014).

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The poem featured here in TNB, “Catch,” like much of your work, involves childhood and parent-child relationship. You’re on in years, but still preoccupied with childhood it seems.

Yes, and it’s fair to use the word preoccupied—not only with my own childhood, but with this basic layer of our humanness that I feel we never outgrow. I work as a psychiatrist with a therapy practice, so, as you might imagine, I’ve seen what children we really still are beneath our apparent adulthood. And that’s not bad! Without our child-selves alive inside, we wouldn’t have any music or poetry, I’m sure!

Part of my preoccupation is the search for safe space for feeling sad or lost or helpless—space, creative or therapeutic, for feeling and expressing how it is without a dad there, or without a mom freed-up enough to be engaged. Whether we’re six or sixty, finding true holding for our distress can be as elusive as it is necessary. Many of us, young and old, trudge on without this, and it is, I believe, of great consequence. Much destruction comes of such secret lonely torment.

Catch

By Jed Myers

Poem

All the fathers are gone, under
the grass, above us in the earth’s
greenhouse haze, in stream silts
where the burial hills are awash
in the unprecedented monsoons,

some never found, swamped shot
in the rice marshes and ultimately
part of the crop, some taken in bits
as they sank into the mouths of fish
and bottom scavengers, some chopped

into manageable chunks and wrapped
to be kept from the air and stashed
behind Sheetrock while the cops passed
for unbroadcast reasons—all
the fathers, it sometimes seems, are gone,

for ruth weiss

1
where’s a pebble birthed?
the river delivered you
an ancient infant

2
rare egg of rock
rest upon my frail heartline
nearly translucent

3
clouds at your back
floating you down the river
innocence erodes

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Dora Malech. Her most recent poetry collection, Stet, is available from Princeton University Press.

 

Malech’s other collections include Say So (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2011), and Shore Ordered Ocean (Waywiser Press, 2009). Her fourth collection, Flourish, will be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2020.

Malech has been the recipient of an Amy Clampitt Residency Award from the Amy Clampitt Fund, a Mary Sawyers Baker Prize from the Baker Artist Awards, a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, and a Writing Residency Fellowship from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and she has served as Distinguished Poet-in-Residence at Saint Mary’s College of California. She is a co-founder and former director of the arts engagement organization the Iowa Youth Writing Projects, and she is currently an assistant professor in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.

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Photo credit: Alexis Rhone Fancher

 

Hello Rick. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Oh, it’s my pleasure Rick, though, full disclosure I’m just answering your questions by typing. We’re not speaking out loud. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.

On the Plane Home

By Rick Lupert

Poem

I
I would like to visit Budapest
I tell the airplane magazine
in response to its article titled
“Visit Budapest”. Send me a
paprika sample and we’ll
seal the deal! I’m not as
interested in the shirts
designed to be worn untucked.
Sorry, airplane magazine,
you can’t win them all.

 

Why did you give your book such an uncool title?

Yeah, I agree. It felt like it was related to the central concerns of the book, both myself as a father, but also the general concept of fathering, of responsibility. There’s a poem in the book with that title, that ends with the lines:

the children sleeping
alone in some
detention center
don’t need
our brilliant sincerity
it’s not enough
to give some money
make some calls
they are not ours
but they are
we are the first
new fathers
ours failed
where we cannot
stop waiting
there are no others

I was thinking about our founding fathers, and how they let us down. And all those fathers running things now, so destructively. And about what it would mean to be a new kind of father: what sort of fathers we all (regardless of gender) need to be now, to all kids, each other, the earth, ourselves.

Plus the word father seems very ancient and powerful, but also in need of renewal.

When I was fifteen
I suddenly knew
I would never
understand geometry.
Who was my teacher?
That name is gone.
I only remember
the gray feeling
in a classroom
filled with vast
theoretical distances.
I can still see
odd shapes
drawn on the board,
and those inscrutable
formulas everyone
was busily into
their notebooks scribbling.

 

Who are a few of your favorite saints?

Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Augustine, Saint Lucy, and Saint Theresa of Avila.

I’ve hurt you: I’ve loved you.
I’ve vacuumed all the rooms.
I have no idea what became of us, yet
there are endless possibilities for happiness.
Once, when my lover betrayed me,
I greeted him at the door with a knife.
Now I am on my haunches, unvalued and unused.
Am I to be blamed for wanting absolution?
Am I to be blamed for keeping what I conjure
in a vial of formaldehyde beside my bed?
Idiot savant, death is my downfall.
My students fail, repeatedly, to deploy
the correct conjunctive adverbs
in everyday speech. Consequently,
I fold my napkin into a perfect square.
Henceforth, the night ends so quickly,
bringing forth the vulgar day.
When images become inadequate,
I shall be content with silence.
When images become inadequate,
I shall separate the chaff from the wheat.
I feel I’ve learned so little, here.
The soul pressed flat is matter, unsexed.
The heart pressed flat is meat.

 

Your newest collection is titled something sweet & filled with blood, that’s a little creepy. How did you select this as the title?

It’s a line from the last poem in the book, the star painter & a sleeping nude. The poem is about watching someone sleeping just after glorious sex. There’s something haunting about the wee-hours before sunrise…especially when you’re sleeping in someone else’s bed…

Thomas Fucaloro, cofounding editor of great weather for MEDIA, suggested it. The editors and I thought it encapsulated the collection nicely. There are some very saccharine moments in the book: first kisses, something asking someone to dance, a ballerina en pointe, and the last moonlight before sunrise. On the other hand, there are also some terrifying moments that make your heart race, or cause the adrenaline to start pumping…like when “red hives mount/under an amorphous head” in the lollipop presents as a young girl.

she radiates
billowing acumen
in the velvet mouth
of monochrome paint

she holds her shoulder
up to an albino
thought

‘here I have no purple,
no red rhythm,
only this slow,
grey,
shrill, thinking
thing within’